Thank You Beverly Jenkins
By Funmi Baker
The Lust & Found blog (@lustfoundreads) has done a wonderful thing. She created #JenkinsJuly. A wonderful month to celebrate a living legend in the genre of romance, Beverly Jenkins. She is my favorite author in the entire world. All month, I’ve been mulling over what to say about her works, or how to say it. One thing is for sure, I couldn't let #JenkinsJuly go by without adding my two cents.
I grew up wonderfully black. I lived in a black neighborhood. I went to black schools. I had a mother who could drown out my whining perfectly when she had a Sepia, Arabesque, Dafina, or BET book in her hand. She surrounded me with illustrated books of girls who looked like me. I went to Juneteenth celebrations. It was easy to be black. I never understood exactly how hard she was working to make me understand that my blackness is a positive thing. In many ways, I was sheltered. A black life was the de facto for me.
I, like my mother, am a voracious romance reader. Living a one minute walk from the library, it was my key to worlds unknown. I became particularly enamored with historicals. In high school, I entered a world of dukes, barons, and earls. They were all very good but all very white. I never read into it because I was young. Black was normal. Black was everywhere in my life. I was simply reading for the joy of reading. Before I knew it, I had read hundreds of historical books about white people. I was in every history class at my high school answering all the white-washed questions. There was no AP history test I couldn’t pass. Now, my mom had noticed that my reading was white and my history knowledge was fairly white. She tried steering me toward the things she had been surrounding me with since I was a kid. However, I was a high schooler. I knew it all. She was a single mom with four kids and two jobs. She didn’t have much time to really sit down with me.
So speed forward. I’m 18. I’m at Purdue University. For the first time in my life, I felt the weight of my skin. Now, I’m the only fly in the buttermilk. I’m the only black person in my major in years. I’m the only black person in my friend group. I’m the only black person in my classes. I’m isolated. I stopped reading altogether. I spent five years fighting to be seen as a person as I pursued higher education.
When I graduated, I decided I wanted to live the blackest, BLACKEST life I could. I wanted to be unapologetic. I wanted the luster to return. So I returned to my favorite thing in the world--reading. This time, I wanted to see myself. I wanted to see brown happily ever afters. Kinky happily ever afters. Full-lipped happily ever afters. This is how I found Beverly Jenkins.
I ordered her book, BREATHLESS. I remember when the Amazon package came--I just stared at the cover. I was thinking, “Where have you been all my life?” I devoured that book. With my first adult paycheck, I ordered EVERY single historical title of hers. With the help of my mom, I consumed at a voracious rate every single Beverly Jenkins historical. I felt my soul warming with each word. The excitement, the sighs, the tension. I had never been more engrossed in my life. The power of representation--of reading your culture’s love stories--is unparalleled.
Not only was I reading some swoon-worthy things, I was learning. Before you know it, I’m checking out the books from her bibliography. I’m reading books on black women in the west and wealthy black business owners in Louisiana. I had no idea cowboys were not white. As I learn the history of my people, I find that I’m also learning about myself. When I look at black people, we aren’t just made of struggle and suffering. We are the product of love. We are the product of fighting. We are the product of WINNING.
Reading Beverly Jenkins books as an adult, I now understand what my mom was fighting to do. You have to understand your history, the good and the bad. Black people are amazing. Black women are awe-inspiring. There is not one Beverly Jenkins title that lets you forget that. We’ve been falling in love, fighting for our rights, and saving the day since the beginning of time.
Thank you so much Beverly Jenkins. Thank you for restoring some color into a lost black woman’s life. Thank you for inspiring a journey of black knowledge that won't stop until I’m six feet under. Thank you for always showing Black Love.