Soulful Nourishment: Getting A Whiff of Julie Dash’s New Project

This morning while reading one of my favorite blogs—Michael Twitty’s Afroculinaria—I learned about a very important project that I have to mention here on folklore & literacy.

It represents a wonderful convergence of many of my favorite things: folklove expressed through storytelling art, food, culture, history, and memory! I sigh with longing just thinking about it. Here’s what: the visionary filmmaker Julie Dash is making a film about culinary anthropologist and griot, Vertamae Smart Grosvenor entitled “Travel Notes of a Geechee Girl.”

filmmaker Julie Dash
filmmaker Julie Dash

If you are interested in learning why I find the flavors of this film to be so mouth-watering, read on, otherwise simply click on the link above to check out an excerpt and learn how you can support it.

Did you know that the first lifestyle magazine for black women, Essence, was inaugurated in 1970? Its earliest writers included the likes of Gwendolyn Brooks, Alice Walker, Maya Angelou, and Toni Morrison (just to name a few). As a young girl growing up in Detroit, Michigan, I can remember the excitement of poring over its pages, envisioning myself becoming like the stylish college students and powerful, outspoken black women whose voices, concerns, and ideas were featured every month. Essence was the one-stop-shop illuminating the range of black women’s beauty: they celebrated every skin hue and hair texture—many of which were proudly Cornrowed and Afroed at that historical moment. The sistahs wore-out the colors of the rainbow, posing strong in vibrant reds and blues; adorned in lush tropical greens, yellows, oranges, and pinks! It made me even more excited to have been born in my skin than I already was! Essence is where I first read articles written by Vertamae Smart Grosvenor—who had published the groundbreaking book, Vibration Cooking or the Travel Notes of a Geechee Girl (1970).

original cover of Vertamae Grosvenor's Vibration Cooking
original cover of Vertamae Grosvenor’s Vibration Cooking

In pieces she wrote for Essence magazine prior to Alice Walker’s late-20th century introduction of Zora Neale Hurston to a new generation of readers, Vertamae Grosvenor was my first exposure to someone who was a writer and an anthropologist. I hadn’t known that important stories about human beings could be learned and told through food!

In the days when my idea of things I could be when I grew up could be counted on one and one-half hands, what a revelation it was to see that there was no contradiction in being a rooted, proud, lover and practitioner of valuable black folkways and culture while also being a storyteller, artist, scholar, and stylish sophisticate.

Fast-foward to the 1990s, when I was living in Alabama. My mother called me (on my landline) to tell me about a beautiful film she had seen at the Detroit Film Theatre. It was called “Daughters of the Dust” (1991). Director Julie Dash’s independent feature had won awards at the Sundance Film Festival, and Detroiter Njia Kai had worked as a Second Camera Operator on the film. At the time, the best I could do was go to Alabama A & M University library where they had a copy of the film on VHS that they let me watch in a small viewing room by myself. I was mesmerized.

Narrated by the unborn daughter of the character Eula Peazant, the film was so arrestingly beautiful and different from anything I had ever seen that I wanted to cry. It featured the ocean and the earth, the flora and fauna. It featured people from Georgia and the Carolina Sea Islands speaking in the Gullah language, which was hard for me to follow at first and I don’t remember there being any subtitles, so,—poor me!—I had to keep returning to the library to view the film again and again—whenever my spirit needed the “church” that I found while meditating on its story and heart-swelling cinematography.

In 1992 Dash—with Toni Cade Bambara and bell hooks—published a book about the making of that film. I am the proud owner of a copy that I hope to re-read, soon.

Are you beginning to smell the aromas that made my nostrils tremble when I learned about “Travel Notes of a Geechee Girl”?

You can read my review of Jessica B. Harris’ book High on The Hog: A Culinary Journey from Africa to America here. The author is one of many luminaries featured in “Travel Notes of a Geechee Girl.”

***I finally read and wrote about Vibration Cooking; read my review by clicking here.

6 Comments

  1. I did a lot of reading on the Heidelberg experience. Why did they burn the houses? Was there a reason I could understand? I am excited because literacy students will be able to read and discuss and connect through many art forms. Come and visit and give advice. I love folklore and literacy.

    1. Hi Mrs. Porter! Thank you for your comments—although I think they belong to the post “Detroit Poem: I Love You (The Heidelberg Project).” With regard to why some of the Heidelberg project houses have been burned—I really don’t know. Maybe we could pose this question to some of our literacy students and hear what their ideas are. Thank you for your support and ideas—I will visit, soon, and we can talk more!xoxo

  2. Food as folklore is a lovely, marvelous thought, Leslie. Thank you! I love the idea of the film as a church to visit, too. Well done!

  3. Oh Leslie. This brought tears to my eyes. What a celebration of culture, of these women artists- Vertamae, who lifted her largely-unknown culture to the light, Julie who honors her legacy, and you, who brings us the connection with your warm, joyful words. “Folklove” makes me shiver- what a beautiful word. Food is such a powerful expression of the artistry and heritage, even politics, of regions and cultures. Thank you for sharing this- I will be following the film’s journey!

    1. Well – my work here is done! (Here you have to envision me dusting-off my hands). Julie, I think you are sensitive like me, and I’d like to share a slice of my aunt’s pineapple-upside-down-cake with you as we follow the progress of “Travel Notes of a Geechee Girl.”

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