Bonnie Greer’s Confessional
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 8th August, 2014
The black American playwright, cultural commentator and journalist Bonnie Greer grew up in Chicago’s poor south side at a time when one’s skin colour defined one’s identity — and for many people, one’s role in life. But it clear from her 400-page memoir of the first 30 years of her life, A Parallel Life (Arcadia Books, £14.99) that her search for herself was at least as much about what sort of person she herself was as about ethnicity. The eldest of seven children of obviously loving, yet quite strict, Catholic parents, she found herself torn between their expectations and her deep desire to rebel. And to write — an occupation she took up aged nine, though it was years before she found her true voice and medium. The book finishes with her move to New York, in a car driven by two friends getting high on cocaine. And by this time she had realised that she preferred the company of gays ( especially drag queens) to straight men, though essentially heterosexual herself. Parts of her memoir pick up on the political and cultural moods of the time, from Chicago’s Mayor Daley to the assassinations of both Kennedys, with plenty of musical and film referencing as well. The reader is given the tip-off that she will later find an anchorage in Paris and then London, though the brief pages on an early visit to Amsterdam and the UK are telescoped so much that they at times are confused and confusing. Indeed, what is so striking about Bonnie Greer’s time in the confessional — which is how the book appears — is how the style changes rapidly, from fluent, well-rounded paragraphs to staccato single sentences, or even just a few words. It has all just poured out, or so it seems, which of course gives it it’s vitality. By the end it is clear that the author is indeed no angel, but a force to be reckoned with. And one understands exactly why, as well as how, she managed to keep her back turned on the BNP’s Nick Griffin in the celebrated episode of Question Time when he was a guest as an elected MEP.