Black Chameleon: Memory, Womanhood, and Myth (Hardcover)
In the literary tradition of Carmen Maria Machado’s In the Dream House, Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior, and Jesmyn Ward’s Men We Reaped, this debut memoir confronts both the challenges and joys of growing up Black and making your own truth.
Growing up as a Black girl in America, Deborah Mouton felt alienated from the stories she learned in class. She yearned for stories she felt connected to—true ones of course—but also fables and mythologies that could help explain both the world and her place in it. What she encountered was almost always written by white writers who prospered in a time when human beings were treated as chattel, such as the Greek and Roman myths, which felt as dusty and foreign as ancient ruins. When she sought myths written by Black authors, they were rooted too far in the past, a continent away.
Mouton writes, “The phrases of my mother and grandmother began to seem less colloquial and more tied to stories that had been lost along the way. . . . Mythmaking isn’t a lie. It is our moment to take the privilege of our own creativity to fill in the gaps that colonization has stolen from us. It is us choosing to write the tales that our children pull strength from. It is hijacking history for the ignorance in its closets. This, a truth that must start with the women.”
Mouton’s memoir Black Chameleon is a song of praise and an elegy for Black womanhood. With a poet’s gift for lyricism and poignancy, Mouton reflects on her childhood as the daughter of a preacher and a harsh but loving mother, living in the world as a Black woman whose love is all too often coupled with danger, and finally learning to be a mother to another Black girl in America. Of the moment yet timeless, playful but incendiary, Mouton has staked out new territory in the memoir form.
“Black Chameleon feels like a monumental shift in how we make books about memory & myth. The writing here is at once exquisite, and rigorous, while the ideas splinter beautifully into intersecting quadrants of black womanhood. This is a genre shifting book.”
—Kiese Laymon, author of Heavy: An American Memoir
“Black Chameleon catches the light and adapts to it, ever more gloriously showing us to ourselves. Mouton's mysticism and magic is the birthright and survival of all Black women while being uniquely her own. This book kept showing me new shades of freedom.”
—Sonya Renee Taylor, author of the New York Times bestseller The Body is Not An Apology
“Honest, wise, and graced with aching beauty, Black Chameleon redefines what a memoir can be. Mouton tells a new story of Black womanhood by braiding personal history with folklore. The end result is nothing less than literary alchemy.”
—Zain E. Asher, CNN International Anchor and author of Where the Children Take Us
“Black Chameleon is a generous portal of a book, which allows a reader access to a rich population, of not just people, and not just geographies, and not just the spiritual, but also, the book is populated with an ever-present consideration of mercy. Mercy for the self, and for others. I emerged from this book overwhelmed with gratitude.”
—Hanif Abdurraqib, author of A Little Devil in America
“Black Chameleon fuses legend and memory to create a startling work in the tradition of Audre Lorde’s biomythography and Lynda Barry’s 100 Demons. Mouton's determination to lead a life fulfilled by poetry, love, and Black female strength makes this a gripping read. Candid and illuminating.”
—Carolyn Ferrell, author of Dear Miss Metropolitan
“Her prose crackles as she fuses fables with stories to create a spirited portrait of Black American womanhood. . . . Throughout, Mouton honors and complicates her heritage while seeking to understand her place within it: '[Some] would tell you that this is why you must work twice as hard to get half as much. But I know that half is not the holy grail. Tell a half-full belly that it is satisfied and see how it grumbles. I did not come from the wombs of half-baked women.' The writing is unconventional and exquisite, and sure to enthrall readers of Jesmyn Ward.”
“The book is lyrical, tender, and generous, celebrating the beauty of the oppressed with wildly imaginative and artfully rendered prose. . . . This innovative mix of myth and nonfiction is a pleasure to read. A formally inventive celebration of Black womanhood.”