Sistah’s Speak: Review

Sistah’s Speak
by Khafre Kujichagulia Abif
Ubuntu Press

Reviewed by T.J. Banks

Their voices come at us from all directions, catching at our heart-strings. It’s tempting to call the women writers in Sistah’s Speak a Greek chorus because they are commenting on a major issue and the emotions underlying it. There’s a problem with that comparison, though: a Greek chorus is essentially homogenous, all of the members voicing the same emotion.

The writers in Sistah’s Speak are all living with HIV/AIDS, but each one brings her own light to bear on the subject. “No matter how I look or how active I understand clearly with AIDS you can get hit from nowhere and it is what it is,” observes Rae Lewis-Thornton. At the same time, she savors the sight and feel of her baby daughter sleeping alongside her and the morning birdsong: She has learned to take nothing for granted. “Today, I had perspective and with perspective, I could smile….I was filled with nothing but gratitude this morning in spite of my life with AIDS.”

Maria T. Meija writes about living twenty-six years with HIV and her work with The Well Project, a worldwide resource for women with HIV, their caregivers, and their healthcare providers. Lynda Arnold addresses the “horrific and progressive memory loss” that has played a part in her journey with AIDS. “Memories are supposed to be our footprints in our mind and hearts,” she says with an aching wistfulness. “My long-term memory is so shot, I feel like it’s left me in the shambles and no one is there to help me pick up the pieces.” For Vickie Lynn, it’s about being caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place: taking her “dream job, one that I cannot pass up” but worrying that the job will cause her to lose her badly needed Medicaid.

Each of these voices is strong and vital; each woman’s story is critical to our understanding of the impact of HIV/AIDS. Maybe the sistahs in this book do form a Greek chorus, after all—a more real one that reminds us, as Rachel Ann puts it, of the fact that the disease “is all of us” and has many different faces.

T.J. Banks is the author of Sketch People, A Time for Shadows, Catsong, Houdini, and other books. Catsong was the winner of the 2007 Merial Human-Animal Bond Award.