Synopsis of Potato Chips and Wine by A. Breeze Harper
Pearl Marie Thomas is a Black girl in rural white New England. The year is 1996. All Pearl wants is to find love and the perfect vegan meal without her pious mother bothering her about her 'unkempt dreadlock' hair style, or her stepfather reminding her that unless she 'behaves', she cannot attend the women's college of her dreams: Smith College. With her heroine Audre Lorde's poetry and prose guiding her within her head, Pearl is in the closet as a 'Black dyke' (as she lovingly refers to herself), required to attend a Catholic High school, and constantly daydreaming about sultry romance scenarios with girls she'll never have, Pearl unexpectedly meets Ramona Lee, a Korean-American teen who captures her heart. Set to a playlist/videolist of the 1980s and 1990s, Potato Chips and Wine cleverly narrates the joys and frustrations of a Black teen girl trying to survive and find happiness in a mainstream society of the 1990s that narrated Black people as 'born criminals' and LGBTQ community as 'sinners.'
Why I Wrote This Novel
I was born and raised in rural New England and then attended college in an even more rural area. I never had access to young adult fiction with a contemporary Black teen or queer protagonists-- after all, I had spent my formative years in an all white rural New England school system and read approximately 0 assigned fiction books by a Black author and none with queer protagonists [that I can recall]. The books I was required to read assumed that everyone was (or should be) white, straight, cisgender, able-bodied, and of Christian faith. (Don't get me wrong. I did appreciate them in terms of writing technique and storytelling) However, I decided to write a book for me and those like me who wanted to experience representation of themselves– Black and queer– in a young adult novel. I started writing Potato Chips & Wine in 1996 at Dartmouth College sophomore year. This is essentially an ‘era piece’. Mostly finished by 1999, I added a few changes to the book in the early 2000s:
Making Pearl Marie Thomas, the Black teen lesbian protagonist, a vegan and;
Adding sounds and visual bites from 1980s & 90s music, movies, sitcoms, and talk shows to convey how deeply impactful arts and media were to the development of a queer Black teen in a white dominant suburb of New England.
Unfortunately, I never got the book published by a press. Publishing in the mid 1990s/early 2000s as a Black queer author, writing about Black queer protagonists, was difficult when it didn’t necessarily fall into either erotic or urban fiction genres. The book is neither.
But, it is 26 years later and I somehow found Potato Chips and Wine in my Google Drive. I thought, “Shit, I need to share this with the world! No matter how immature and ignorant it is now. Ha!”
But, what inspired this book could not have been possible without many of the queer women who made history with their creative genius through their music, script writing, and books. I have included some of these inspirational women's contributions as props, backdrops, and symbols in the novel that add the textures, sounds, and visuals to Pearl's emotional and intellectual process of navigating an anti-Black racist and homophobic society:
Alice Walker (Book: The Color Purple)
Audre Lorde (Books: Zami; A Burst of Light; Black Unicorn; Sister Outsider)
Melissa Etheridge (Album: Yes I Am)
Guinevere Turner and Rose Troche (Movie: Go Fish)
Maria Maggenti (Movie: The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love)
Tracy Chapman (Album : New Beginnings)
And even though some of these other inspirations below are/were not queer women, bands such as Garbage, Green Day, Salt N Pepa, Nirvana, En Vogue, LL Cool J, are included in Pearl and other teen character's mental playlist as teens trying to figure it all out, merged with how sitcoms such as Living Single, Baywatch, and movies like Predator, had profound impacts on most GenXers in the USA.
This book, I guess, also reflects the mindset of a youth (me) during the Generation X era in the USA. With a few minor edits to the manuscript that took place in 2023, the style and fundamental concepts have purposefully not been changed to reflect where I was as a writer, thinker as a young pansexual woman.