Cherry Muhanji has studied and presented her work internationally. She received her Ph.D. in English, anthropology, and African American World Studies from the University of Iowa. Muhanji was awarded the Before Columbus Foundation American Book Award for Tight Spaces (1987), which she co-edited with Kesho Scott and Egyirba High. Her novel Her (Aunt Lute, 1990) is the winner of two Lambda Literary Awards: Lesbian Debut and the Ferro-Grumley Award for Fiction. Cherry has also taught at various universities across the country including University of Minnesota, Goddard College in Vermont, and Portland State University. She currently lives in Portland, Oregon, and is enjoying teaching, reading and finishing a memoir.
In Cherry’s own words:
There is the rhythm of the mother, the suppressed poet, and the worker. There is the rhythm of the first-time college student at forty-six, the activist, and the budding prose writer. There in the dizzying rhythm toward the Master’s in African American Studies; the rapid riffs necessary for an interdisciplinary Ph.D. in English, Anthropology, and African American Studies. There is the rhythm of the creative doctorate with a critical Intro unique to the University of Iowa [B.G.S., M.A., and Ph.D. (1985-1997)] that culminated in a ho-hum novel that never wanted publishing [Momma Played 1st Chair (1997)]. But always, always there is the hum of the poet [“Testimony,” Bittersweet (1985)], novelist [Her (1990)], and short story writer [Tight Spaces (1987), Before Columbus American Book Award]. Threaded throughout this journey was the continuing bass line of travels to China, repeated trips to Cuba, a harrowing experience in Haiti, and an informative trip to Tijuana—where the rhythm of exploitation in the maquiladoras was palpable.
Suddenly, there was the “stopped time” of the professor/ struggling to tutor sixth graders in Kansas City, for $65 a day [Late 2000 till summer 2001]. But, always, always the working writer. Out from a sustained silence; a hush, the rhythm moved me through the Northwest where a creative/ critical piece on jazz is published [“Soundtrack” (2003)]—there the plot changed to the unsteady rhythm of a would-be playwright, with an effort entitled miles and miles and miles of Miles about Miles Davis, and a concert reader of plays—all this and an ongoing, despairing novel, Detroit, my hometown. I’ve come full circle.
—Strange rhythms these.
My life has been saved many times by writing.
This is a story about Detroit in the late fifties/early sixties and the Black women and men who came North to work the lines of the Ford Motor plant. It’s a story about John R. Street, the Harlem of Detroit, where they spent their nights trying to forget their days—at the Frolic and Flame Showbars, playing Mr. Ben’s numbers, sitting on stoops reminiscing about the days of their youth in the South. Irreverent and poetic, this daring novel explores relationships among Black women of different generations and places who, above all, teach each other how to survive—not on men or money but on the courage to move a long ways in tight spaces.
A skillful creator of scenes and characters, Muhanji explores in richly textured prose the complexities of relationships—particularly the intricacies of black lesbian and gay lives…celebrating both individual identity and community strength…an excellent offering from a strong writer.
Her is a technically flawless, robust novel written with passion and a keen observation of the human condition by an author of both talent and insight. The characters are as memorable as their stories—and their stories are timeless.
— Midwest Book Review
Her is a novel whose words refuse to be constrained by the boundaries of its pages. Like jazz that reaches out to both heart and gut, it is deep, throaty and rich; its language and characters wail, leap, glide and moan. From a central core of strong women characters, Cherry Muhanji experiments and elaborates, playing variations, solos, and combinations up and down the register. Her creation is both eye-opening and sensual.
— Erica Bauermeister, 500 Great Books by Women