African-American women talk about hairstyles they’ve worn in places from Manhattan hair salons to a marketplace in Ghana
Queens: Portraits of Black Women and Their Fabulous Hair. By Michael Cunningham and George Alexander. Doubleday, 200 pp., $29.95.
By Janice Harayda
Queens came out more than a year ago, but it would still make such a great Valentine’s Day gift for many women that I can’t resist reminding you about it. This coffee-table book is more than a striking collection of black-and-white photographs of 53 black women who talk about some of their most memorable hairstyles, including a sequined elegy for the Twin Towers that perches atop one head. Queens is also a celebration of the role of hair salons in African-American culture.
“The African-American beauty salons are special even though they may not always be plush,” hairstylist Sonia Mullings says. “The salon is a place where women can come in and sit down and be heard and finally express how they’re feeling. I’ve found being in this business for so many years that women don’t come to the salon for just a hairdo. The hairdo is secondary to having someone focus on them.”
Photographer Michael Cunningham and journalist George Alexander found proof of those words places that range from Manhattan to Ghana. And their book shows an extraordinary range of familiar and not-so-familiar hairstyles, including dreadlocks, Afros, a pageboy, and traditional Ghanian styles such as Dadaba, Alice, and Bolga braids. Among the most beautiful Ghanian styles is the Akwyelebi, resembling a small and elegant birdcage, that could be ideal for brides who want their weddings to include authentically African-American elements. All of this means that Queens is more than a potential Valentine’s Day gift. It could also be a terrific engagement present for a woman who is getting a ring on Feb. 14 and has begun thinking about how she wants to wear her hair on her wedding day.
Best line: Lettice Graham, age 82, on one of her many memorable hairstyles: “When I was a child, my aunt used to braid my hair and she would braid it so tight I couldn’t laugh for three days.”
Worst line: A bit more explanation of how stylists created some hairdos in this book would have been useful. It isn’t clear, for example, how much of that homage to the Twin Towers consists of human hair and how much of other materials.
Recommended if … you’re looking for a gift for a black woman of any age. including mothers and grandmothers. Also highly recommended to brides-to-be.
Editor: Janet Hill
Published: December 2005
Furthermore: Just a reminder, men: Books are not a substitute for flowers. If you give her Queens, make sure you add something with a stem. Yes, it’s unfair that you have to come up with two gifts if one is a book. But this, unfortunately, is how the world works on Feb. 14.
© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.