God Sends Sunday

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Bontemps, Arna (1902—1973)

Countee Cullen (1903—1946)


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A novel by Arna Bontemps, God Sends Sunday was published in 1931. According to local legend, Little Augie, born with a caul over his face, is blessed with the double gifts of luck and clair-voyance, but the notion is small solace for the timid, frail, undersized youngster who firmly believes his destiny lies in wandering until he exhausts his luck and meets his destruction.

When Little Augie attains manhood and becomes a full-fledged jockey, success transforms him into a swaggering, cigar-smoking gallant with a relish for mulatto women, only to find himself in hopeless rivalry with Mr. Woody for voluptuous Florence Dessau. First Augie turns to drinking whiskey and singing the blues, then he departs for St. Louis in search of a substitute for Florence and finds Della Green, a “fancy woman” on the infamous Targee Street. They thrive famously until Augie kills his impulsive competitor Biglow Brown who had challenged Augie's courage.

Some thirty years later, withered with age, wearing a frayed Prince Albert outfit, Little Augie wends his way to Mudtown, a black country neighborhood in southern California and new home of his sister Leah and her teenaged grandchild, Terry. His battered traveling bag, a bottle of whiskey, and his old accordion

represent the complete remains of his character. Soon Augie is reanimated by handling Leah's livestock-especially her worn-out old racehorse-and dares to dream of new beginnings. His schemes, however, are disturbed by menacing signs and dark forebodings. When Little Augie gravely wounds a man in a fight, once again he must move on, and he is last seen making his way to Mexico.

This novel was praised for its poetic style and challenged for its racy content, but Hugh Gloster perceived it as setting a new trend in African American fiction because of its abandonment of Harlem for its background. Countee Cullen joined Bontemps in a dramatization of the story that subsequently became the controversial yet successful 1946 Broadway musical entitled St. Louis Woman.

—Charles L. James

Subjects: Literature.

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