Review of LaShawn M. Wanak, “Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Memphis Minnie Sing the Stumps Down Good”, Apex Magazine 120 (2019): Originally published July 2018, FIYAH Magazine. Read Online. Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.
In this alternate history, taking place shortly after WWII, strange “stumps” in the shape of the recently deceased have begun to appear, formed from spores that have deadly effects on anybody around them when they mature. Curiously, certain people have the power to effect the stumps and facilitate their safe removal, through song. These people are employed by a government agency, the SPC (Stump Prevention Control), paired with handlers who deal with the actual stump removal, and worked for long hours to keep their communities safe. The catch is, these individuals are forbidden from singing in any other context, as they might bring a stump to maturity and thus endanger the people around them. This story follows the only two black women employed as exterminators in Chicago – a brash blues singer by the name of Memphis Minnie, and a meek church girl called Sister Rosetta Tharpe.
This story has so many of the themes that I love: strong relationships between women, the triumph of individuals over a controlling organization, and the healing power of self-expression. It even includes a bit of LGBTQ representation, which is always nice to see in a period piece. The friendship between these two black woman is richly developed, the way they look out for each other, manage their differences, and ultimately discover something the SPC does not want known, was a joy to witness. This is a longer story, coming in at almost 15,000 words, but it is well worth finding the time to sit down and savor it.