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Short Stories 365/252 | N.S. Beranek

“Storyville 1910” by Jewelle Gomez from Saints & Sinners 2010: New Fiction from the Festival (Queer Mojo).

We’re taking a small detour because the next story up in Night Shadows and this one are both part of The Gilda Stories. I skipped reviewing this story in January because the author was the guest judge for the Saints and Sinners New Fiction contest  which I’d entered, and it seemed like a conflict of interest.

I was not expecting the anthology to include a vampire story, and it was a welcome surprise. I like some vampire stories quite a lot. That is to say I like vampire fiction that reads more like historical fiction and makes a lot of social commentary as it goes.

Go figure, I really like this.

The story is set in the New Orleans district called Storyville, the city’s red light district, created by politicians to keep undesirable businesses out of the tonier neighborhoods. Gilda is a vampire who started life in 1850 as a slave. She’s come back to Storyville looking for one of the two vampires who gave her refuge and immortality after she escaped the plantation. Instead, she finds another character from her past (and an actual figure in New Orleans history). They’ve barely had a chance to speak when there’s a knock at the door. They discover two half-frozen young girls on the doorstep, and soon learn that they fled an abusive boss in a nearby brothel. Of course they give them refuge, and of course the girls’ abuser comes after them. The drama provides a perfect framework for the author to tell us all about Gilda’s life after the plantation, and comment on the mistreatment of people of color and women in this country. It was fascinating and prescient, as only history can be. Consider this passage:

“But the world had gone crazy since Jack Johnson won the heavyweight championship. White men wrapped up their worst hatred and insecurities in the black boxer’s win over his white opponent earlier in the year. Gilda didn’t want to engage with another one who blamed the world’s ills on a black man’s success.”

Naturally, I added the collection to my list of things to read.