By (author) Yolanda Barnes
“Keep watching for Yolanda Barnes and her work. Her voice is her own and will be heard.”—George Garrett
Inspired by the Los Angeles riots of 1992, When It Burned to the Ground is an impressionistic vision of inner-city life. This stunning re-rendering of Eden takes place on imaginary Piedmont Street—an avenue of vital contradictions, with a pawnshop and cemetery, prostitutes and preachers, a street with no money in its pockets. Here we meet a variety of women embattled at society’s fringe—Cecile, once a schoolgirl at her history lessons of Pompeii, now a piano teacher down on her luck; Bernadette, seamstress and subject of rumor; an anonymous gardener planting dill as a curative against witchcraft and an amateur botanist studying the bird of paradise, which is both flame and woman’s hat.
Throughout this beautifully made montage, recurring images flash into focus and then recede—fire, dusk, the fearsome temper and pleasures of red (lipstick, fig and burning sun). And among them all appears the reluctant street preacher Daniel, a troubling messianic figure bothering Piedmont with warnings of hellfire.
As striking as Jean Toomer’s Cane, When It Burned to the Ground is a stark, bold lyric of place and time, an ambitious and innovative fiction. Its stories, sketches and fragments culminate into a haunting book of novelistic breadth and depth, creating a dreamlike and surreal reflection of our own strange world. It is an extraordinary and unique accomplishment.
Yolanda Barnes lives in Los Angeles, where she was born of Creole/black Southern heritage. She graduated from the University of Southern California, where she majored in journalism, and received her MFA from the University of Virginia. Her short fiction has appeared in TriQuarterly, Ploughshares and the O. Henry and Pushcart Prize collections.