‘Nobody’s Magic’ explores the complexities of Black albinism

Birdsong’s resilient, vulnerable characters search for self-fulfillment.
Destiny O. Birdsong is the author of "Nobody's Magic," comprised of three novellas about Black women with albinism living in Louisiana. 
Courtesy of Destiny O. Birdsong

Credit: Destiny O. Birdsong

Credit: Destiny O. Birdsong

Destiny O. Birdsong is the author of "Nobody's Magic," comprised of three novellas about Black women with albinism living in Louisiana. Courtesy of Destiny O. Birdsong

Destiny O. Birdsong dives deep into the intersection of Black womanhood and albinism in the three rousing novellas that compose “Nobody’s Magic.” This character-driven triptych stars three unique women with little more in common than their Louisiana roots and the absence of pigment in their skin, hair and eyes. Being a person of color without color impacts each of their lives differently. Yet they all share a yearning for happiness, independence and human connection that pushes each woman forward.

Their individual domestic situations shine a light on the complex struggles each woman traverses to find her place in society. In “Drive,” Suzette is a sheltered 20-year-old who does not drive a car. Nor does she go to school, have a job or socialize with friends. She’s more than capable, but after the “voodoo incident” in elementary school — when a classmate’s mother plotted to remove Suzette’s eyes — her overprotective father stunted her social growth in favor of her safety. After a family friend sparks a romantic interest, Suzette starts to question if her independence might be worth more than the cloak of security she has allowed to cocoon her life.

In contrast with Suzette’s parental vice grip, Maple becomes untethered over the loss of her mother in “Bottled Water.” Momi wasn’t just Maple’s mom, she was “the person who is your whole family: your mother and father, your friend, the cousin you snicker with during service when someone catches the spirit and their wig goes sideways or they lose a shoe.” Momi was beautiful and gregarious and loved Maple more than anything in the world. Adrift without her anchor, Maple plunges into overwhelming hopelessness and struggles to find a reason to go on.

Agnes in “Mind the Prompt” struggles as well. Unlike Suzette, Agnes has excelled academically and earned her Ph.D. Unfortunately, her career prospects are not panning out. Desperate for cash, she takes a short-term job scoring exams in another town. But when she reaches her breaking point — after a lifetime of feeling like she’s never measured up — and does something to put her job in jeopardy, an impromptu trip back home sends her straight into the thick of family drama she vowed to leave behind long ago.

Courtesy of Grand Central Publishing

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Credit: Handout

Birdsong conveys her characters’ feelings of alienation due to their albinism by exploring the different relationship each woman has with her own beauty. Suzette is flamboyant with her embellishments, figuring “if folks gon be looking, they might as well see something interesting.” She opts for lavender braids and a full face of makeup every day, despite seldom leaving the house.

Maple clings to the image of herself she saw reflected in Momi’s eyes, that of a girl who is just as beautiful as her mother, despite knowing she’s too lanky and “not supposed to be that color.” Once her mother is gone, Maple becomes infatuated with an adult film that stars Momi, and she watches it obsessively, imprinting on Momi’s beauty as she processes her grief.

Agnes used to rely on bronzer and auburn wigs to diminish the appearance of her albinism until she went broke. Now she exists in a no-man’s-land of racial ambiguity: too light to be perceived as Black, but not white either. When questioned about her race at a job interview, she informs them of her condition, which “triggered a silent mortification that surged through her body like a riptide, shifting the center of gravity in every room.”

The men these women are involved with play pivotal, albeit distinctly different, roles in each character’s quest for self-actualization. Suzette begins to question if she wants more out of life than to be taken care of after Doni proclaims he’s looking for a woman who’s “about something.” Maple discovers a kindred spirit in Chad, a friend suffering from his own deep-seated grief, who props her up while she processes her catastrophic loss.

And Agnes, who “felt exhausted from the obscene amount of work involved with managing other people’s feelings and not being courageous enough to tend to her own,” must decide if an instant relationship with Prime, who seems determined to box her in, fulfills her needs. Or is he yet one more pawn in her cycle of self-subjugating choices that has led to an unfulfilling life?

Woven throughout the tale of each woman’s metamorphosis is the important role female relationships have on one’s self-esteem. Suzette relies on her friend Drina for everything until Doni comes along and shakes up their routine. Drina is forced to admit she may want more from Suzette, which gives Suzette a fresh take on her own desirability.

Maple is adrift in her sea of grief when she encounters a woman coming to terms with her own devastating loss. Fearful she will never be happy again, Maple experiences a turning point when the woman encourages her to keep seeking happiness. And Agnes’ willingness to hash through the past with her sister, who has treated Agnes poorly her entire life, serves as a benchmark to measure the breadth of her internal growth.

Birdsong has brilliantly crafted three coming-of-age stories that glimmer with passion and purpose. Her characters display a spectacular combination of toughness and vulnerability, and they use that dichotomy to push past the constraints keeping them down. As each one ventures toward her own self-fulfillment, three satisfying mediations on the perseverance of female empowerment leap off the page. Suzette, Maple and Agnes are Black women with albinism who unequivocally and without apology embrace their own magic.


“Nobody’s Magic”

by Destiny O. Birdsong

Grand Central Publishing

368 pages, $28