Dear Oprah, is an original poetic narrative event in a rap influenced style, a truth telling in the voice of a
girl innocent, as she deals with issues of sexual abuse, identity and coming of age in the much celebrated and
awaited novel by Michael Ellis and Keynote Poetry Press. Michael Ellis is a famous Poet/teacher/charity organizer
from California. He was published twice before he was 19 years old and studied journalism and English at the
University of Puget Sound. He has been compared to Langston Hughes of the Harlem Renaissance and regularly
gives performances at poetry events. He received a scholarship from the Hurston Wright Foundation for the writing
of Dear Oprah. This is the second Book Review This Writer has written for Michael Ellis, the first being, They
Wouldn't Let Me Be White.
This is the story of a young girl in a Black family, Correne, tossed back and forth between different relatives because her mother is disappeared, (ostensibly on the road as a singer) and her victimization by her "uncle" Josh, who rapes her regularly. She has health issues that prevent her from going to school and she receives a disability cheque. She does not know what to do about her plight and watches the Oprah Winfrey Show who she looks up to and admires. One day she gets the idea to take up a pen and paper and write Oprah a letter, which turns into a series of letters that comprises a journal. The letters all begin with Dear Oprah, recounting the days trials and occasional joys and sing into the night hoping for help.
As Correne writes she is addressing Oprah, the palindrome goddess in the mirror, who becomes the source of the reflection that reveals the beautiful true nature and good instincts of the abused girl. As Oprah is the mirror for the girl, the girl, a person non gratis, someone vulnerable without status becomes the mirror for the people around her. How they treat Correne says everything about who they are, their experiences with life, where they've been, their suffering, their discordant or copacetic souls and she becomes a catalyst for the expression of their true natures.
The situation is a bad one, and the characters present very realistically, the good spirit people vs. the hurtful people as the story of Correne's life unfolds. Like a shadow play everyone knows Correne is being abused by "uncle" Josh, they know the true story of her birth, who her mother is, yet they do not tell her and people turn a blind eye, no one admits to the abuse in public or attempts to help her into a new more healthy living situation. Sometimes the occasional person she trusts with knowledge of her predicament are outwardly abusive, laugh off her trouble or placate her when she attempts to tell about what Josh is doing. She even calls 911 but is ignored by the police, Josh passes it off as a prank and the police go away. She is also a victim of gas lighting, where she is picked on, particularly by Josh. He is the unconscious monster, someone who has little empathy and does not understand the brutality of his actions, he doesn't know how to be. The "monsters" who abuse Correne, using her as a scapegoat for their anger or their suffering probably have some very horrific stories of abuse in their background. In the Old Society, with often both parents working or suffering from multiple lovers it was difficult to parent effectively and often some people do not have an idea of who they are, the culture or the Holy Spirit Way. Dialogue, feedback and good mentoring with creative interventions are exemplar to helping people so they are not hurting themselves or others, a wake-up call from the New Society.
Correne is the Redeemer, she is a good spirit who loves Oprah's show, loves the next-door neighbour, Sonja's, garden full of flowers, likes books and likes the local girl, Wanda, who collects recycling cans and bottles. Wanda was physically abused by her ex-husband who she murdered in self-defence, but she is a good spirit and helps Correne out of a confront with some local teenagers. Correne sees Wanda is a good person despite the catcalls of Josh who has nothing good to say about her. Certain words are deified by her, being capitalized, as if she is the creator of archetypes, the seasons, the stars, sun and moon, colours, foods, all things positive are put in capitals and sometimes a healthy respect for the negative, i.e. the Devil. She is ingénue and largely illiterate but some of the people in the Community on Magnolia Street help her learn math and English. Sonja takes her to the library, and she signs out books, sometimes the words she uses are misspelled and this is reflected in the text, giving a very real oeuvre to her narrative, she is largely illiterate.
The story is told in poetic narrative in the first person of the abused girl, Correne, and is in rhyming couplets, a rap influence style that is very sweet and good, conducive to the voice of this young victimized girl. Every letter is as if she is personally talking to Oprah, revealing a truth telling that will melt your heart.
Dear Oprah, is an original concept, original style, expertly telling a very difficult story in the heartbeat of America, a story of any neighbourhood, any city. The beautiful gift of rhyming poetry is good at reflecting the spirit of the abused girl, giving hope for resilience and a new day. Dear Oprah, the new American classic by Michael Ellis.