A wildly divergent and frustratingly uneven anthology of contemporary stories—80 percent of them original—about black city life. Simmons and the late Austin (author of the novel After the Garden, 1987) are former members of the Harlem Writers' Guild and founding members of the New Renaissance Writers, a New York-based literary group well represented here. This in-crowdy feel, though, is both a virtue and a weakness: Of the almost 50 pieces in the collection, many of them are New York-centered and seem better suited to workshop discussion than to the printed page. But there are also gems, and newcomer surprises. Standouts include ``My Father's Son,'' by Lambda Literary Award winner Steven Corbin, a wrenching tale of straight father/gay son spiritual reconciliation; ``The Ethical Vegetarian,'' by Alexi De Veaus, a spry, hip, whimsical account of food and soul; ``Can You Say My Name,'' by Carolyn Ferrell, a story of teen pregnancy that opens up new spaces in writing on the black female adolescent experience; ``Sixty Years After Hiroshima Thirteen Years After Rodney King,'' the book's most daring formal experiment, Safiya Henderson-Holmes' apocalyptic prose poem set in 2005. Assured but unspectacular contributions come from such stars Terry McMillan (``Touching,'' a funky-sad tale of unrequited lust) and Bebe Moore Campbell (``Playing the Game,'' a conventional man-trouble story). Meanwhile, startling surprises include relative unknowns EsmerÇlda Santiago's ``A Real Man,'' a biting satirical fantasy on Puerto Rican gender relations, and Mina Kuma's ``How I Made Love to a Negro,'' a groundbreaking tale of Black-Indian interracial sex and love. Ntozake Shange and Fatima Shaik round out a collection that would have been stronger if a more discriminating editorial hand had been at work.
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