ZZ Packer’s 2003 publication, a collection of short stories, is as important and enlightening today as the year it was published. It makes a good pick-up-and-put-down read as do most short story collections, but it has a quality about the writing that makes it special. In many of the stories “That Old-time Religion,” beloved by many of our grandparents and beloved still in many predominately African-American churches is presented through the author’s beautiful story-telling style. As Alex Hailey expressed in a quote from Roots, included in the book,
“Join me in the hope that this story of our people can help to alleviate the legacies of the fact that preponderately the histories have been written by the winners.” The people in Packer’s stories are not losers; they are the over-commers. Some stories end happily, some sadly, but all are dealing with awakenings and the power they have over the individual, who, in turn, gains the power to overcome. The stories teach us that prejudice comes in many forms; that loss of faith is a searing loss; that friendships and sisterhood can help us overcome almost anything; and that Civil Rights deal with everyone’s rights.
Some of my favorite stories were “Speaking in Tongues”; “Doris is Coming,” which dealt with the predicted end of the world New Year’s Eve 1961 (I remember well that prediction.); and “The Rapture.”