Blackburn’s prose is simply exquisite—every word weighty, every sentence stripped of excess, with all remaining wonderfully descriptive.
Venita Blackburn makes an indelible impression with her first collection of short stories, Black Jesus and Other Superheroes.
The impressively credentialed collection bears a title that might seem to indicate stories that traffic in genre, but Blackburn’s writing revolves around people in everyday straits—with an occasional touch of the fantastic, and a depth of character that makes every tale engrossing. She focuses on people with abilities (a twisted take on superheroes in “The Immolator”) and disabilities (a teenager in a wheelchair in “Brim”) alike.
Blackburn’s prose is simply exquisite. Every word is weighty, every sentence stripped of excess, but all is wonderfully descriptive. In comparing skin tone, one character notes, “We were the same color, oxygenated apple meat.” A girl is described as having “never been able to disagree. With the personality of a candy dispenser, she will give all she has if you tilt her head and will grow to please many men.” A window is “frosted over by age and carbon dioxide from the procession of a thousand mouth-breathers over decades.”
Perhaps because they showcase the scalpel-like precision of her writing, the most impressive of Blackburn’s stories are often the shortest. Eight run no longer than a couple of pages, yet each delivers a formidable impact, opening a window into a world, even just a crack—enough to tantalize, titillate, enough to make the audience love the characters and mourn their passing from the page. That is, until the next story introduces another glimpse into another world.
On the other hand, the longest (and final) story in this collection, “Run Away Screaming,” shows Blackburn’s skills with pace and dialogue, and hints at the potential of longer work in the future. Whether she embarks on writing novels or sticks with more short work along the line of Black Jesus and Other Superheroes, Blackburn is a writer to watch, but more importantly, to read.
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