Hettie Jones has had three lives so far, and she lets us see both the perils and the pleasures of a shifting identity in her autobiographical work, How I Became Hettie Jones. The book focuses on that period in which she literally became Hettie Jones, casting off the name she was born to – Hettie Cohen – and taking on the name of her husband, Leroi Jones. The act of giving up her own name was hardly revolutionary at the time – indeed, it is still commonplace today – but it becomes the symbolic heart of this story about what a woman does when she marries, and in particular what happens to her and to her life when she marries the kind of vibrant and creative man that Leroi Jones was.
This book encompasses a number of different stories. One of the stories is how Hettie Cohen fell in love with a member of the beat generation and joined in the creative joy of that period, a time in which a number of people decided that they make better art along with better lives for themselves if they broke a number of the established rules. It is also the story of a woman who was rejected by the husband whose talent she had helped to nurture – first in casual ways as he encouraged the female groupies who increasingly threw themselves at him as he became more and more well known and then formally, as he divorced her because she was white. And it is also – at least implicitly – the story of a woman who decided in the end that while she valued her role as wife and muse, that she would seek and find her own voice as a writer.
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