BootsnAll Travel Network

The book, the movie, the T-shirt

Ever since the day of, I have been obsessed by the drama of the lives of Manko and Kendra. Not just as a mom, but as an artist and social activist, I am gripped by the power of this coming-of-age in America story of two young African-American women, one with a GED, the other with a high school diploma; both with no sense of direction, no marketable skills or talents; both with a terrific sense of humor and zest for life: what will happen when they strike out on their own in Houston in mid-2007? Almost anything is possible. The story they are about to create should be told.

I want a great documentary-maker to come along and catch this on camera. I want it to be a reality show, a book, a graphic novel, no, the great American novel, and then a movie–with T-shirts and caps and action figures. I want it to be a celebration of the nerve it takes a young girl to make a way for herself in the world. It’s a cliffhanger: will the girls really have to eat “bread and Ramen,” as Kendra predicts? Will they be robbed or worse? Will they get jobs in the same place, or will they go off in different directions? How much will their skin-color shape what happens to them? How much will the difference in their appearance influence their destinies? How much will they sacrifice to help each other out? What will hold them together and what will tear them apart? Will they be able to pay the electric bill, the rent, and keep up the payments on their cell phone contracts? Will Kendra, who is accustomed to that rip-tide of movement of people and family, be able to adapt to living in the city among strangers? Will Manko, who is accustomed to hours of solitude and leisure, to a houseful of books and a computer and to being taken care of, pull herself together and cope with the problems of creating a life on minimum wage?

This is a story about the USA, about race and gender and background and class and size. This is a story about everything I care about.

Manko was born in Africa to a mother who was going to die before her fifth birthday. She was going to suffer from malnutrition, neglect, and abuse, and then at the age of eight she was going to be delivered at the door of a neurotic white woman who would try and fail to find an African home or an orphanage or some kind of arrangement for this and another abandoned girl child. That funny-looking shaved-head old white woman just entering menopause who had already reared her kids, who doesn’t particularly like kids, who had recently fled the ivy league and had no clear plan for the future–decided there was nothing more important for her to do than accept the gift of these children’s lives and start over in Africa…and then, after six years in Africa, somehow washed up in a small Texas town as an administrator at an obscure community college. Manko is a fey, tiny, pretty woman who is quick with one-liners and appears incapable of thinking or planning five minutes ahead of this moment. She wants to have some good times.

Kendra is the eldest of six children born in a small Texas town to a single mom in a huge extended family, a loud-talking, wise-cracking mom with a fondness for a few beers and a few hands of cards, who works as a nurse’s aid and depends on her own hard work and her mother, her sisters, and her network of friends and baby-daddies to keep her rent paid, her car running, and her kids in shoes. Kendra’s mom and Manko’s mom are shy around each other because they are so different, but each loves the other’s daughter.

Kendra grew up in a flood of family, where every weekend was the occasion for a barbecue, where waves of people washed in and out of her house and her grandmother’s house and her aunties’ houses every day. Kendra played basketball in high school but wasn’t quite good enough to get a college scholarship, so she started working as soon as she got her diploma–first as a maid in an old folks’ home, and then at Wal-Mart. Her wildest dream is to get away from that small town where everybody knows everybody else’s business (and everybody else’s grandparents’ business for the past fifty years), to get away from being the unofficial babysitter for her five younger siblings, to get away from everything she knows and to make–she doesn’t know what. A life of her own. She’s tall, strong, big-boned and bashful but practical (all those years of being the eldest girl in charge of all those babies). She wants to have some good times.

This odyssey, whatever it turns out to be, is rich with potential for drama, for love, for laughter, for danger, for suffering, for joy: for every component of what human life can be. What they make is not up to them. It will be a braid of choice and circumstance, nerve and limitation, luck and happenstance, opportunity and oppression, genes and culture and language. I’m on the edge of my chair, watching and wondering what will come. If I weren’t Manko’s mom, I’d rent an efficiency apartment in their complex, buy myself some bunny slippers and a robe, and hang around and write the story they are about to make. I’d be a camera and a pen, quick to catch the story as they live it.

Of course I can’t do that, won’t. (I think immediately of my friends up in Massachusetts who strongly recommended I join a 12-step group for co-dependent parents and children.) Such a documentarian, if there were one, would have to NOT be the mama of one of the characters in the story. But oh–it is a terrific set-up for a movie, a book, a discovery. It’s WAY bigger than Barbara Ehrenreich’s story. It even has a title and a domain name that hasn’t been claimed yet. Where is an artistic visionary when you need one?

Tags: ,

4 responses to “The book, the movie, the T-shirt”

  1. Sarah says:


    I would be cool to see weere they’re headed. Maybe you could encourage them to set up a site/blog of their own..That way you’ll have all 3 POVs for any project:)


  2. admin says:

    Great idea, but they don’t have a computer. I’m guessing that food, electricity, and rent will trump the computer on their list of what to buy. Very important to get their POVs, but neither likes to write…. This is why we don’t have voices of girls in their situation, and why we NEED those voices. But that takes, well, maybe “intervention” is the word.

  3. Sarah says:


    Maybe they could buy a demo model..Ask around @ Best Buy, Sam’s Club..Circuit City, etc…Another resource: has links to area freecycle groups, some with Yahoo! Groups..Maybe the area Comm. Coll. or Univ. is clearing out their PC labs..

    I remember using a 486 back @ Uni..All they need is word processing and dial up net access.


  4. admin says:

    Great ideas, Sarah. I will certainly pass them on. At the moment both girls are mainly worried about earning enough to pay the electric bill, the rent, etc. I’m going to pay their rent in June & July, but I’m hoping they will take over after that. I can’t do much more for them at present, and they aren’t planning to get a LAN line or internet access. But in the fullness of time, we shall see. Thanks!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *