I Wish I Had a Red Dress

Author: Pearl Cleage (click on link to purchase book)

Publisher: Morrow Publishing


 Star scores

One star-poor      Two stars-fair     Three stars-Good      Four stars-excellent

Originally published by Rapport Magazine

This was not a book that one could put down and walk away from. From page one, Cleage immediately gets the reader hooked. She also weaves an entertaining story with social commentary, shedding light on the Black experience from all different views. The setting for this narrative is the beautiful Idlewild, Michigan. A former thriving oasis, in its heyday, for Black American entertainers like Lena Horne and Sammy Davis, Jr., treated like royalty instead of second-class citizens.

This is the place Joyce Mitchell now calls home- still quite beautiful, but definitely no longer a Black paradise.  Joyce Mitchell is a middle-aged widow who lost her husband five years ago in a tragic car accident.  Not feeling she was affecting enough change in her pupil’s lives, she leaves the teaching profession and becomes a “social worker,” where she opens up a program for troubled young women. Most of them are teenage mothers, and society, the government, and their parents all have washed their hands of them.

This program is everything to her, and the only thing missing in her life is the love of a good man and a red dress. For a woman whose life is surrounded by blackness, including her clothes, she feels a little color couldn’t hurt. Little did she know she would wind up with both.

When Joyce tries to get federal funding, it proves to be a disaster and it becomes up to her to keep her program afloat on her own. In the meantime, she still has to take care of her girls and herself.  It is during this chaotic time that love chooses to come knocking.

Her best friend, Sister, is a reverend. Yet not the kind of stoic person one pictures when they think of ministers, even women ministers.  One night at a dinner party, she introduces Joyce to a tall, dark, and handsome man, Nate Anderson. He is new in town and is quite available. He is a former cop from Detroit, and now is the Vice-Principal at the high school. There is an instant connection, and pretty soon they are keeping each other company.  Mitch was the only man Joyce had ever been with, so this is new terrain for her.

She must learn how to love again and open her heart to a new man. Will she let that “free floating rage” block her from something that could be special and meaningful? Will she allow the lousy examples of manhood that her girls have fallen for cloud her judgment? Can she bury Mitch once and for all, and allow someone new in her life? Is Nate her “Denzel clone” (as one girl refers as the perfect man) she has been waiting for?

Cleage is a terrific writer. Her characters are vibrant, passionate and authentic. While the plight of the Black man is often portrayed, the Black woman’s story is seldom heard. This is a story for the sisters, about the sisters, and by a sister – one of integrity and love that every brother would be well-advised to read. Heck, a book every man should read! Undoubtedly, this is a book that should not be missed.


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