The Mee Street Chronicles: Straight Up Stories of a Black Woman’s Life
By Frankie Lennon
Paperback: 248 pages
Publisher: Kerlak Enterprises, Inc. (February 1, 2007)
Autobiographies are a dime a dozen, and going by the school of thought that everyone has a story in them, ergo, everyone has an autobiography in them. But what then makes a memoir powerful? Surely, the thoughts of figures who have made significant achievements are of interest to others. The thoughts of people who have endured extraordinary struggles, too, can serve to be inspirational. In short, the value of personal writing when published, rests on whether or not a personal life-story can have mass appeal, can speak to and of the experiences of many, and stand as testament to a life (or many lives) and a period in time.
Truth be told, I was skeptical when asked to read Frankie Lennon’s memoir, The Mee Street Chronicles: Straight Up Stories of a Black Woman’s Life. Who is Ms. Lennon? And why did she think her story was worth telling in memoir form (rather than in fiction or poetry). It takes a certain audacity to assume that others might be interested in the autobiography of someone little-known, if at all known. And while the blurb from Nikki Giovanni, the celebrated poet, piqued my interest, I groaned inside when I discovered that Giovanni was a childhood friend. All in all, I had little expectations of this book.
I’m happy to say that The Mee Street Chronicles surprised me.
True, the book starts out in a rather meandering way, and it takes awhile to see the point of why a reader with no personal ties to the writer may want to read it. It takes several pages to become convinced, but I was astonished to find how quickly I got through the book once I got involved. The Mee Street Chronicles, thanks to its sheer readibility, had me seduced. Written in an easy, uncluttered style, Lennon traces her life from her early childhood growing up in a predominantly white neighbourhood still feeling the brunt of the Jim Crow laws (which segregated whites and blacks in America), her grappling with and coming to terms with her lesbianism as well as alcoholism, and involvement with a controversial and groundbreaking church. While there are no great dramas, no fabulously famous icons (Giovanni herself only appears once, early on in the book, while recounting an incident in high school), and little mention of the Jim Crow experience beyond her own, Lennon manages to weave a simple tale that leaves one rooting for her. There are certain shortcomings, however. For instance, an entire period between college and finding herself alcohol-dependent is omitted, and there could have been much more consistency and tying up of knots, so to speak, in the narrative. Inspiring? Not necessarily. Truth be told, greater focus on historical and social context, rather than only empirical experiences of it, would have helped the reader better understand both Lennon and the motivations and importance of her memoir. But interesting? Most definitely.
By the end of the book, I had subverted the question I had in my head when I started it. No longer did I think, “why should she write a memoir?”, I had been convinced, “why shouldn’t she?”. Frankie Lennon’s book is a wonderful testament not just to her own life but also to the power of documenting one’s life. This brave and candid work successfully throws aside the notion that one needs to earn the “right” to write a memoir, and does even more damage to the idea that “ordinary” struggles have no place in the literature of documentation.
Reviewed by Lakshami R