Gomez, Jewelle. “The Gilda Stories: Expanded 25th Anniversary Edition”, City Lights, 2016.
A Sexy Vampire Novel
Some of you may remember that twenty-five years ago, Jewelle Gomez got the jump on the vampire literature scene with her “The Gilda Stories”. This novel begins in 1850s Louisiana from where Gilda escapes slavery and learns about freedom while working in a brothel. After being initiated into eternal life as one who “shares the blood” by two women there, Gilda spends the next two hundred years searching for a place to call home. First published in 1991, the book quickly became a lesbian classic and is read all the time. Its themes of
blackness, radical ecology, re-definitions of family, and the erotic potential have never lost their relevance. The focus is on Gilda, a black lesbian who possesses considerable agency throughout the centuries, and the novel is a commentary on gender and race, remain significant and powerful.”
In this 25th anniversary edition is a new foreword by Jewelle Gomez and reflects on the publication history. Gomez uses the vampire story as a way to retell American history from the point of view of the disenfranchised who finally get their say.
Gilda is tenacious and yearns for a sense of community as she, now a vampire, insists on living among humanity with all its flaws and danger. The Gilda Stories are both classic and timely. Gilda shows us the importance of what is within black feminism and her stories are filled with the urgency of problems that desperately need to be resolved even today. When the book was originally published it was way ahead of its time and now we really see why this is such an important novel. The characters are rooted in history and they make trouble for the traditional models of family, identity, and literary genre. This is so much more than a horror story.
Gilda’s stories are independent of each other and are separated by decades at a time. She wanders across the United States in search of a sense of family, home and the love of her tutor, the Native American woman, Bird. It is important to note that Gilda’s stories deal nor just with vampires not just a vampire’s memoirs. Her stories deal with racism, class and all that is in-between. Gilda is a minority amongst a minority as she is one of the only black vampires in existence. The elements of sexuality deeply suggest Gilda’s lesbianism, though the fine lines of sexuality blur amongst the vampire community. We see here that sexuality and romantic partnerships come together with mental bonds and the ideals of companionship. Gilda’s true inability is to love or make love to a mortal, but among the vampires, it seems that either gender is fair game.
Each of the stories seem is independent of each other. Some are about the dangers in the vampire community while others are about Gilda and what she thinks and how she connects with others.
There is also the subplot of Bird and Gilda and their relationship. Bird acted as if she were Gilda’s teacher and mother but then she disappeared and of course this upset Gilda. Bird’s name is heard again when members of the vampire aristocracy are mentioned ands she does return to help Gilda kill and enemy vampire in Boston.
Everything about this book is excellent and I do not know how I missed it when it was first published. Filled with mystery and suspense, it was an important book for feminists and lesbians as well as having transfer value for men.