Covering Cinema From All Across The African Diaspora

God As A "Jolly African American Woman?"

I stumbled across this write-up for a novel titled The Shack, while skimming through archived pages of the New York Times online. I was immediately drawn to it after seeing the headline which read, "Eckhart Tolle may have Oprah Winfrey, but “The Shack” has people like Caleb Nowak." Usually anything with Oprah's name included will get my attention, especially when I'm not looking for anything with Oprah's name attached.

So, I clicked on through, scrolling down, skimming the article to find out what the Oprah connection was, and came across a paragraph that said this, "Mr. Nowak, a maintenance worker near Yakima, Wash., first bought a copy of “The Shack,” a slim paperback novel by an unknown author about a grieving father who meets God in the form of a jolly African American woman, at a Borders bookstore in March..."

Wha? God in the form of a "jolly African-American woman?" And not just an African American woman, but a JOLLY African American woman :o)

Ok, so, needless to say, the article had my attention after that, and I kept reading to learn more about this novel, which I'd never heard of, even though the New York Times write-up says that it's fast becoming a best seller! If it is, then I suppose somebody who reads my blog might have heard of it, because I certainly hadn't... up until reading about it today, anyway.

As listed on its sales page on Amazon, where it's said to be #4 on the best sellers list, The Shack is described as a Christian-themed novel about a character by the name of Mackenzie Allen Philips, whose youngest daughter, Missy, has been abducted during a family vacation and may have been brutally murdered. Four years later, Mack receives a suspicious note, apparently from God (in this case the above-mentioned jolly African American woman), inviting him back to that shack for a weekend (Ooooh, sounds kinky). Against his better judgment he arrives at the shack on a wintry afternoon and walks back into his darkest nightmare. What he finds there will change Mack's world forever. You'll want everyone you know to read this book!

Well, well, well... In that case, maybe I should check it out, if only to read about God as a jolly African American woman!

The author, William P. Young, a 53-year old white man by the way, said in the New York Times article, he chose to make God an African American woman (don't forget the 'jolly' part) because he wanted to alter religious preconceptions, stating, “It was just a way of saying: ‘You know what? I don’t believe that God is Gandalf with an attitude or Zeus who wants to blast you with any imperfection that you exhibit.’"

The article also says, even people initially put off by the book’s characterization of God as a black woman were won over!

After reading the entire write-up, I thought about how many times I'd seen or heard God portrayed as an African American woman in any medium, whether literature, film, music, fine arts, etc, and I couldn't come up with anything! But I know that this isn't the first time anyone has made the reference, even in the mainstream. I think one of Octavia Butler's novels (not sure which one) presented God as black and female - Octavia Butler fans out there can clue me in. Other than that, I'm at a loss, so if anyone is privy to any info in this regard, please do share! I'd hate to think that this is the first mainstream piece of fiction that characterized God as a black woman - minus the "jolly" part, an inclusion I still don't quite understand. It immediately makes me think of Aunt Jemima, or Mammy in Gone With The Wind.

I'm as secular as they come, but I have to admit that I'm curious, if only to read if/how the author incorporates the woman's "blackness" into his portrayal of God, especially since it's apparently flying off the shelves! Check it out HERE.


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