Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on Wednesday, January 7, 1970.
“… Most of all in ‘Sissie’ I suppose I wanted to stake out, so no one could misunderstand it, my claim and the claim of most black men to a decent life in these United States.
Approximately seven or eight generations here should have served as something more that the mere establishing of squatter’s rights. But even squatters in some courts have legitimate claim to lands they settled and developed,” states John A. Williams in the introduction that he wrote especially for the Anchor edition of his novel SISSIE.
“Finally, although it may not always appear so,” Williams continues,” I wished to offer a testimony of love to the members of my family, known and unknown, dead and living, good, bad or indifferent, black, white, and red, and to say in some crude way (how could one even “begin” to say it with precision?) that I understand; that it has been hard, but fair, because that was the challenge, that was the way things were, and we accepted the challenge and still lived, though we were not expected to.
Although guilt for living may drag at our feet, it is our physical presence that most causes our elation. And you could not feel guilt if you did not have a presence, if you were not alive and ‘function’.”
The novel opens with Sissie lying on her deathbed and her two surviving children on their way home to be with her. The ambition the children have inherited from their mother has carried them far. Ralph and Iris have become famous-Iris as an entertainer and Ralph as a playwright. In one sense their lives have fulfilled Sissie’s dreams; they have gone beyond her.
Sissie’ other legacy, her hatred and bitterness, threatens their beings. Their flight back to their dying mother is a retracing of their steps back to their origins. To be free to live, Ralph and Iris must free themselves from Sissie and for both this freedom lies in their capacity to forgive her.
John A. Williams is the author of the best-selling novel, THE MAN WHO CRIED I AM, as well as NIGHT SONG and SONS OF DARKNES, SONS OF LIGHT. He has traveled extensively as a writer for NEWSWEEK, HOLIDAY, and National Educational Television. He is presently on leave from the English Department at C.C.N.Y. and resides in New York City.