I somehow ended up with these two curiously linked books at the same time without first realizing the connection they shared. Content and style wise they are quite different, but both center on, or are the product of, two fascinating, brilliant, one-time film making women who left this mortal coil way too early.
Whatever Happened to Interracial Love
This slim collection of witty, lively short stories, were largely unread until her daughter pulled them from a trunk 30 years after her death to have them published. Proof once again that the best books written are often hiding in archives, unpublished and awaiting someone to discover their genius. Collins was an activist and professor of film history with a master’s in French literature and a stunning gift of language.
In Losing Ground, a black female philosophy professor leaves her philandering artist husband to go off in search of her own ecstasy. This movie, notable as one of the first feature length films to be directed by a black woman, and in its portrayal of middle-class black intellectuals, did not get a theatrical release and was tragically overlooked for nearly 30 years. It was recently restored, screened in 2015 as part of the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s series: “Tell it like it is: Black Independents in New York, 1968-1986”, and is now available for the first time in 30 years. This PBS segment on Kathleen Collins’ daughter is well worth your time.
Suite for Barbara Loden
This petite but possessing French novel from a small press is part fiction, part meditation on the curious film of one time star and filmmaker, Barbara Loden. Wanda, the film at the center of this unusual little book, is out of print, largely unknown, and wasn’t readily available on the internet or for streaming or purchase, we didn’t own a copy here, (saga continues…) but as librarians do, it was available at another library, so we checked it out, and watched it. Here’s hoping this little book brings it back around again.
The total lack of agency is perhaps the most defining feature of Wanda, and certainly one aspect that sets it in sharp contrast to Kathleen Collins’ film. Set in Pennsylvania’s coal country, Wanda gets divorced, loses her kids, runs off with a man who abandons her at an ice cream stand, then falls for a man robbing a bar who she believes to be the bartender. She stumbles into and through unfortunate circumstance after unfortunate circumstance, with seemingly very little control over her fate.