Saturday, December 3, 2011

SWEET POTATO PIE by Eugenia Collier

Sweet Potato Pie by Eugenia Collier

When the Civil War ended, many owners of large Southern plantation split their land up into small plots and set up sharecropping arrangements with former slaves and poor whites. The sharecroppers farmed the land, turning over a share of the crop to the landowners. In return, the landowners gave them seed, tools, and a place to live. Most sharecroppers worked very hard but lived in great poverty, subject to the whim of landowners, weather, and insect blights.

In this selection, Eugenia Collier gives readers a glimpse of what life was like for a family of sharecroppers.
About the Authors

Eugenia Collier (b. 1928), African-American educator and writer, was born in Baltimore, MD. Her father, Harry Maceo, was a physician. Her mother, Eugenia, was an educator.

In the 1940s and 1950s, few African-American women were pursing professional educations. But Collier was one of the pioneers. In 1948, she earned a B.A. from Howard University, graduating magna cum laude. Two years later, she was awarded an M.A. from Columbia University. In 1976, she earned a Ph.D. from the University of Maryland.

After finishing her M.A., Collier worked for the Baltimore Department of Public Welfare as a caseworker (1950-1955). In 1955, she began to teach at Morgan State College in Baltimore. Over the years, she worked her way up from assistant instructor to assistant professor of English. Collier has taught at a number of other colleges and universities, too, including University of Maryland, Howard University, Morgan State University, Southern Illinois University, and Atlanta University. In addition, she has lectured and worked as a consultant.

In the late 1960s, Collier began contributing her writing and editing to books such as Impressions in Asphalt: Images of Urban America (1969); A Bridge to Saying It Well (1970); Langston Hughes: Black Genius (1971); Afro-American Writing: An Anthology of Prose and Poetry (1972); and Modern Black Poets: A Collection of Critical Essays (1973). In 1973, she published a one-act play called Ricky (performed 1976), based on her short story of the same title. Other works include Spread My Wings (1992) and Breeder and Other Stories (1993). Collier has contributed stories, poems, and articles to Negro Digest, Black World, TV Guide, Phylon, College Language Association Journal, and The New York Times and her work continues to appear in anthologies. A televised lecture of Collier's was included in the series called "The Negro in History," produced by Morgan State University. Collier currently is working on a collection of autobiographical sketches.

Collier is a member of the College Language Association, Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, Middle Atlantic Writers Association, and African American Writers Guild.


(Tested vocabulary words used in the online vocabulary quiz are underlined.)

plait—braid of hair.
gingham—cotton fabric, often checkered, striped, or plaid.
entities (EHN-tih-tees)—people or things that exist.
edifice (EHD-uf-fuhs)—building.
nuances (NOO-ahn-sehs)—slight degrees of difference.
gaunt—thin and bony.
pallet—narrow, hard bed.
ubiquitous (yoo-BIHK-wih-tuhs)—present or seeming to be present everywhere at the same time.
futiley (FYOO-tih-lee)—without useful results.
brackish—somewhat salty.
collage (kuh-LAHZH)—collection of diverse things.
valedictory (val-ih-DIHK-tuh-ree) address—closing or farewell statement or speech, usually delivered at graduation ceremonies by the top student in the graduating class.
lithograph—type of print.
apex (AY-pehks)—highest point; peak.
GI Bill—U.S. government program to help veterans get higher education, home loans, and so forth, at the government's expense.
Harlem—New York City's African-American district.
id—in psychoanalysis, the part of the mind that is the source of instinctual impulses and primitive urges.
Garvey Day—annual celebration of the birthday (August 17) of African-American leader Marcus Garvey (1887-1940).
akimbo (uh-KIM-boh)—bowed outward.
guffawed (guh-FAWD)—laughed heartily.


Use the STUDY GUIDE below as a way to work through the selection and improve your comprehension of the essay.


Answer the Questions to Consider questions in the book as a way to deepen your interpretation of the selection.

1. What types of sacrifices should the members of a family be expected to make for each other?

2. How did being sharecroppers shape the lives of the members of Buddy's family?

3. In what ways does Buddy consider himself the "luckiest" in his family?

4. How do Buddy's feelings about his parents compare to his feelings about Lil and Charley?

5. Why do you think Charley brought Buddy the pie?

6. The tone of a literary work expresses the writer's attitude toward a subject. What is the tone of this story?

7. What do you think should be the role of older children in raising their younger brothers and sisters?

Literature Connection

1. What were the external conflicts faced by the narrator's family?

2. What internal conflicts do you think might have been faced by the narrator's parents? by Charley and Lil?


Eugenia Collier

Impressions in Asphalt: Images of Urban America (1969, co-author)

A Bridge to Saying It Well (1970, co-author)

Langston Hughes: Black Genius (1971, contributor)

Afro-American Writing: An Anthology of Prose and Poetry (1972, 1985, co-editor)

Modern Black Poets: A Collection of Critical Essays (1973, contributor)

Ricky (performed 1976)

Spread My Wings (1992)

Breeder and Other Stories (1993)

Multicultural America-Part 4: Families

Judith Ortíz Cofer. The Line of the Sun (1989). A coming of age story in a Puerto Rican immigrant family.

Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston. Farewell to Manzanar (1973). Memoir of a Japanese-American family's experiences in a World War II internment camp.

Maxine Hong Kingston. The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood among Ghosts (1976). Award-winning biography about conflicts between traditional Chinese family values and those found by immigrants in America.

Sandra Jackson-Opoku. The River Where Blood Was Born (1997). Evocative novel that traces one family's life from 18th-century Africa to America in the present day.

Gus Lee. China Boy (1991). Semi-autobiographical novel about a Chinese-American boy's hardships growing up in San Francisco.

Simon Ortiz. From Sand Creek (1981). Poetry about Native American life from a well known Acoma Pueblo poet.

Danzy Senna. Caucasia (1998). An important novel about what it means to be a biracial woman in America today.

No comments: