Cover image for Mambo hips and make believe : a novel
Mambo hips and make believe : a novel
Coleman, Wanda.
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Publication Information:
Santa Rosa : Black Sparrow Press, 1999.
Physical Description:
404 pages ; 23 cm


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Wanda Coleman's powerful new novel chronicles the friendship between two women -- one from the black ghetto of Los Angeles, one from its white middle-class suburbs. Both are aspiring writers, both scramble to pay their bills by pickup jobs like waitressing and editing pulp magazines. For two decades they share each other's troubles and triumphs in and out of work and love. Coleman focuses primarily on the white protagonist's point of view; as the story unfolds and the character's roots are unearthed, however, we learn that there's no such thing as "pure" white -- only a mix of bloods concealed over time. As With Coleman's earlier books, Mambo Hips is alive with her patented emotional energy and lyric heat.

How do good girls go wrong?

Answer: It's not about the lips, it's all about the hips.

It sounded simple, even childish at first. But the subtext proved

metaphor for the sexual politics of a whole generation.

Hips. Loose hot heavy and swaying.

The kind some crave to be smothered under.

Blame it on those smoky-throated torchy red-hot mamas blistering

the radio waves of the day, "Hey, Paisano -- learn how to Mambo!

If you gonna be a square you ain'ttagonna go nowhere, " or "Com'

onna my house, ta my house com' on..." or that gold-throated

Johnny Ace throwing croon, "Flamingo, when the sun meets the

sea, won't you fly to my lover...." Blame the shame not on Mame,

but on the Fabulous Fifties. They were born there, if not then, and

the sugar-sweet dreams of who they wer to become were seeded

there.... Blame it on Chet Baker and Charles Mingus. Blame it on

Bobby Darin and James Brown. Most of all, blame it on those hot

neon California nights when the lonely hear the palms whisper in

their blood....

Author Notes

Wanda Coleman was born in Los Angeles, California on November 13, 1946. She attended Los Angeles Valley College and California State Los Angeles but did not earn a degree. In the early 1970s, she embarked on a journalism career with an assignment from the Los Angeles Free Press to write about a fundraiser for Black Panther supporter Angela Davis. However, her sarcastic coverage caused consternation in the Davis camp, and she was blackballed by the underground paper for a decade. In 1975 she landed a job writing for the NBC soap opera Days of Our Lives and won a daytime Emmy for her work the following year.

She took writing workshops around Los Angeles. Her first book of poetry, Art in the Court of the Blue Fag, was published in 1977. During her lifetime, she wrote more than 20 books including Mad Dog, Black Lady; Imagoes; Heavy Daughter Blues; Mercurochrome; and The Riot Inside Me: More Trials and Tremors. She won the Lenore Marshall National Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets in 1999 for Bathwater Wine. In 2012, she received the Shelley Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America. She died after a long illness on November 22, 2013 at the age of 67.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

A close friendship between two women is the basis of this ambitious but overlong and discursive novel. Tamala Fortenot, a woman of mixed racial heritage and lofty dreams, seeks to overcome the sometimes comedic but often tragic follies of her alcoholic parents and other eccentric family members, as well as her own emotional conflicts, while maintaining a nourishing relationship with a black woman, Erlene. Between 1976 and 1991, their deep bond survives numerous calamities; the one thing that remains constant is their devotion to pursuing a shared dream of becoming writers. Inspired by the TV mini-series Roots, Tamala, who passes for white on occasion, is trying to write a book about her family, including her rarely discussed Mexican-American heritage. While her career suffers its ups and downs, it is her emotional life that causes Tamala pain. She's been diagnosed with a genetic birth defect that prevented her sexual organs from developing, so she can never have children. This condition, which also prevents the sexual consummation of any relationship, leaves her lonely and suicidal. Only her friendship with Erlene, chronicled by letters closing each chapter, provides some solace, and even that bond is occasionally strained by her restlessness and self-doubt. When Tamala describes herself as a writer, she also reveals her view of herself as a woman: "I am a Morgan horse who wishes she were a thoroughbred." Much of Tamala's poignant story is buried under the weight of excessive family history and awkward plot devices. Erlene rarely emerges as an autonomous character in her own right. While Coleman (Bathwater Wine) exhibits a colorful imagination, the characters and events evolve in a dizzying blur that leaves the reader impressed at the scope of the tale but disappointed with its cumulative effect. (Dec.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Table of Contents

Honmon (True Teachings)
1. Whatever Happened to Sunnybrook Farm?p. 13
Letter: Oakroot, California, June 28th 1976
Inga Iji (Superficial View of the Surface)
2. Red Wagons and Argonautsp. 20
Letter: In Exile, Redfish, California, July 24th 1978
Kokudo (Today's World)
3. Oracle Streetp. 46
Letter: Redfish, August 5th 1978
Karma (Cause and Effect)
4. Bright and Beautifulp. 70
Letter Redfish, August 6th or 7th 1978
Kuon Ganjo (Out of the Past)
5. Shakubuku Thisp. 77
Letter: Redfish, August 18th 1978
Monsho (Proof Positive)
6. Kinship and Kenzoku Myop. 89
Letter: Slapjaw Junction, October 31st 1978
Gensho (Absolutely So)
7. The Big Biscuitp. 109
Letter: Redfish, December 12th 1978
Nijo (Learning and Absorption)
8. Splashing Upwardp. 124
Letter: Redfish, February 26th 1979
Ga (Self-Identity)
9. The Pin and the Penwomanp. 133
Letter: Redfish, April 2nd 1979
Eho (Atmospheric Influence)
10. Howlin' with the Woofdogp. 139
Letter: Redfish, July 6th 1979
Esho Funi (Earth and Heart Are One)
11. Hollywood Confessionsp. 151
Letter: Collard Flats, U.S.A., August 16th 1979
Gaku (Study)
12. Wide-Eyed and Brimmingp. 159
Letter: Collard Flats, August 29th 1979
Gyo (Practice)
13. Citizen Unrestp. 170
Letter: Collard Flats, Toward the End of September 1979
Shin (Faith)
14. Stargazerp. 183
Letter: Collard Flats, November 5th 1979
Risho (In Theory)
15. Of Presidents and Pollyannasp. 194
Letter: Dunsmuir, California, November 13th 1979
Mappo (Strife and Conflict)
16. All Appleseed, No Johnnyp. 201
Letter: Collard Flats, November 20th 1979
The Nine Worlds
17. These Things Warm and Wonderfulp. 211
Letter: Collard Flats, December 11th 1979
Sansho Shima (Bedeviled)
18. Borderlands Southp. 218
Letter: Redfish, February 21st 1980
Shiki-Shin (Body Mind)
19. A Step Removedp. 228
Letter: Redfish, March 15th 1980
Tenju Kyoju (Sins of Light)
20. Morgan Horsep. 237
Letter: San Francisco, June 11th 1980
Funi (Oneness)
21. A Human Revolutionp. 247
Letter: Novato, July 11th 1980
Sansho Shima (2)
22. Stars and Dayplayersp. 258
Letter: Novato, August 25th 1980
Sansho Shima (3)
23. Hard, Holding and Emptyp. 268
Letter: Murrieta Hot Springs, October 26th 1980
Sansho Shima (4)
24. Xmasp. 275
Letter: Murrieta Hot Springs, August 3rd 1981
Sansho Shima (5)
25. A Dreg of the Earthp. 282
Letter: Serenity Ranch, Redfish, November 16th 1982
Sansho Shima (6)
26. What's New PuddyKat?p. 292
Letter: Redfish, January 4th, 1983
Sansho Shima (7)
27. Valley of the Dollp. 298
Letter: Encino, California, January 15th 1986
Esho Funi (2) (Two Entwined)
28. Flagship Downp. 306
Letter: Van Nuys, July 6th 1988
E (Destruction)
29. Being Davy's Sisterp. 311
Letter: Van Nuys, August 9th 1988
The First Impurity
30. Spilling Overp. 322
Letter: Wordway Productions, Van Nuys, August 20th 1988
The Second Impurity
31. Wet Confessionsp. 329
Letter: Wordway Productions, Van Nuys, September 22nd 1988
The Third Impurity
32. One Share of the Skyp. 340
Letter: Wordway Productions, Van Nuys, October 10th 1988
The Fourth Impurity
33. Gorgeousp. 360
Letter: Wordway Productions, Van Nuys, Mid-to-Late November 1988
Inga Guji (Simultaneity of Thought)
34. Cloud Ninep. 375
Letter: Wordway Productions, Van Nuys, November 5th 1990
The Fifth Impurity
35. Born Todayp. 387
Letter: Orlando, Florida, Card and Photo, December 15th 1990
Jo (Maturity)
36. The Dreamboat Sailsp. 390
Postcard: Salinas, California, May 26th 1991
Ichinen (Now)
37. Earth Movesp. 398
Letter: West Palm Beach, Florida, July 1991
38. Hossho (Enlightenment)p. 404