Orphea Proud is an incredibly touching story about a young black poet who must come to terms with herself in the face of great loss and rejection. We first meet Orphea in an open mike club where she tells us her story, which begins with her love for childhood friend, Lissa. Their short lived romance is discovered by Orphea’s guardian and brother, Rupert, who reacts with fury and beats Orphea. Lissa then dies in a car crash moments after fleeing the scene, leaving Orphea in a state of grief and despair. It is in the aftermath of this tragic event that Rupert sends her to live in rural Pennsylvania with her elderly aunts. Luckily in this back country setting Orphea finds the warm and supportive family which she has been missing, uses her poetry to work through her anger and sadness and discovers unknown parts of her heritage which help her understand who she is.
After facing her brother’s wrath earlier in the story, Orphea fears being rejected by her aunts for her sexuality and delays revealing this part of her identity. However Orphea eventually realizes that she needs to be open about who she is order to be true to herself:
I was still afraid, but…I wanted them to know me, to know me as well as I was getting to know them. By keeping my love for Lissa a secret from my aunts, I was keeping myself outside of the circle. I was keeping myself apart from what I wanted, a family (p. 158).
After finding the courage to come out, Orphea discovers that she truly has a loving and accepting family behind her:
Relief washed over me. “You don’t think I’m unacceptable?”
“Of course not,” said Aunt Minnie. “I worry about how other folks who don’t understand these things might treat you, though. But you’re strong. You know who you are.”
Hearing her say that, I began to feel stronger. (p. 160)
Once Orphea comes out to her family she begins to really accept herself and is open about her sexuality with neighbours and acquaintances as well. She has another very negative run in with her brother later in the story, but survives this with the support and backing of her aunts and cousin. Eventually Orphea develops the courage to follow her dreams and moves to New York to pursue a career in performance arts.
Orphea Proud delivers a strong message about being true to oneself, but the story also highlights what a journey self-acceptance can be and the value of identifying loving and supportive family and friends along the way.
Wyeth, S.D. (2004). Orphea Proud. New York: Delacorte.