African-American Erotica Collection Intertwines Travel And Bodies
Reading a black erotica collection on the train during morning rush hour elicits some odd stares, especially if the book’s cover features a naked, mocha-chocolate woman. The strange looks are probably a mixture of curiosity, wonder, desire, remembrance, and, well, jealousy—a smile crosses the face when reading, instead of the usual irritation, completely enfolded in distant worlds. And pleasant rides to work feel so much shorter than everyone else’s. Wanderlust makes subway trips sexy.
In her introduction, Carol Taylor, editor of the best-selling erotica series Brown Sugar, reminds us that there is something inherently sexy about traveling: “If there is no truth but in transit, then it’s no coincidence that we are our most uninhibited when we travel.” Taylor admits that sex and travel are two of her favorite pastimes, so she includes a pithy, personal rendering about a former love affair to spark this attractive collection. Just like the festive drinks offered in hotel lobbies upon vacation arrival, her invite is a clear signal that you’re about to begin a memorable escape.
So begins the journey of Wanderlust, an enveloping compilation of 14 tales from an array of black writers, both well known and emerging, that distinctively characterize eroticism through well-crafted, literary, outlandish, and relatable tales. Educing the universal feelings of longing and desire, the excitement that bounds from this collection, beyond the unfolding of the steamy love scenes, is witnessing how each author translates these emotions.
And while you might not think there was much sexual spice in the grunge of mass transit, “Just Another Day,” by Chicago’s emerging Deep Bronze, completely flips that assumption through a hot and heavy account of two horny train passengers looking for the other to star in a fantasy. A persuasive narrative with compelling alternating voices heightens the story’s understated concerns of control, loneliness, and fulfillment.
A good chunk of this collection’s strength is actually found in the stories by the lesser-known writers. Done wrong, novelist Preston L. Allen’s “Southernmost Triangle” could have been as awful as, well, bad porn. Instead it’s a psychological feat that begins, “I do not drink margaritas, I do not fish, I do not like gays or Hemingway, and yet I find myself leaving my home and my honeysuckle Atlanta for the coral paradise of Key West.” Allen exposes the irony in his married black male protagonist’s words by stylishly revealing the bizarre threesome between him and an interracial husband and wife couple. While there’s plenty of naughty sex, the story is layered with complications of guilt, self-indulgence, and regret. Elsewhere, multidisciplinary artist SékouWrites navigates through time in “PinkTiaraRainbows,” where a tiara acts as a storytelling device that exposes the sensual desires of its owners.
One the big names of the collection and best known for her clever science fiction, Nalo Hopkinson abandons that genre with “Blackberries,” in which a Vancouver lesbian invites her best friend and his boyfriend over for a visit with the intention of fulfilling a voyeuristic desire. Keen character development, a tight-knit plot, and a dose of outrageousness makes her rational tale still awesomely far out.
Infidelity rears its appropriate head a few times, mainly in the stories by men. Crafting a rich Costa Rican setting and legendlike tone, horror writer Brandon Massey throws slight fear in the mix. He proposes an anti-cheating message that should—but probably won’t—scare married men into faithfulness: Be careful who you cheat with, as he/she could turn out to be a cursed monster who claims souls. And to think a love child was a bad consequence. But it ain’t always about cheating; sometimes it’s about love. In “Irrésistible,” Miles Marshall Lewis, part of the hip-hop literati crew, uses Paris to examine the connection between the heart and the loins, as well as to ponder the varied motivations and intentions behind desire.
“Sexing the Mountain,” by novelist Glenville Lovell, is probably the most romantic tale here. A Barbadian love story with the stirringly rich traits of traditional Caribbean fiction, it’s about two lovers with a dilemma as intense as their passion. The prose moves like the ocean: calm but unexpected, beautiful and mesmerizing. And Lovell writes lyrically: “She surrendered herself completely to the mystical drumbeat of his rhythm, heavy as the bough of a tamarind tree, capturing her spirit with the fury of its pounding, taking her breath away with the intensity of his tempo.”
Thankfully, plain-Jane stories are rare, but a couple of tales—such as Tracy Price-Thompson’s “Hawaii Five-Oh”—would benefit from additional depth. Sometimes hot sex just isn’t enough. Price-Thompson’s telling of a country girl going to Hawaii to celebrate her graduation from law school is too reminiscent of spring breaks past, when girl gets laid by an ultrahot, exotic local and goes home with a smile on her face. “The Fixer” by Sandra Kitt—a pioneer in black women’s romance—is a little too How Stella Got Her Groove Back; a middle-aged woman vacationing in Sicily is enchanted by Mr. Sexy and Philosophical, who emerges from the sea, gives her pleasure, and renews her life. That said, it’s great to see Kitt delve past the PG-13 content of women’s romance, where a few, if any, perfunctory, detail-minimized love scenes are included.
In her introduction, Taylor reminds us again that sex is more than just an act. It is revealed in words, gestures, movements. It’s seen in the setting and in the mood. Wanderlust is a collection that revels in the atmospheric, intangible, and physical qualities of eroticism and may motivate even the most prudish reader to reflect upon the magnetic intersection of travel, sex, and desire.