Study Guide

Having Our Say

By Sarah and A. Elizabeth Delany with Amy Hill Hearth

Having Our Say Introduction

Ever heard of the Delany family? If not, you're missing out on one of the greatest renditions of the American Dream ever told.

Sadie and Bessie Delany were the daughters of Henry Delany, the nation's first black Episcopalian bishop. Born in North Carolina, these two sisters spent their lives fighting discrimination in order to achieve their dreams. Their brothers and sisters became lawyers, doctors, and judges—they even have an experimental science fiction writer for a nephew!

These spunky ladies first came to the public eye in the '90s after author Amy Hill Hearth wrote a piece about them in The New York Times. The story blew up and America fell in love with these two women pushing 100+ years apiece. That's old. The article was followed a few years later by Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First Hundred Years, in which Hearth recreated her countless conversations with the sisters in their own words.

Don't think for one second that these sisters have slowed down in their old age, however. The book uses their vivid, conversational tone to paint a detailed picture of what it was like to live through one of the craziest centuries in U.S. history. The sisters see their fair share of hard times, but they make it through with flying colors. To be honest, the existence of this book is a bit of a spoiler, but we'll let that one slide.

Bessie passed away in 1995 at age 104; Sadie would follow a few years later at age 109. If nothing else, consider Having Our Say to be a proven guide to becoming the oldest person on the planet.

What is Having Our Say About and Why Should I Care?

This time we're the ones asking the questions! Let's start with a simple one:

1. What is your biggest dream in life?

Got it? Okay. You'll need a pen and paper for this next question, so go ahead and grab some. We'll wait.

Jeez, took you long enough. Now, please write the answer to the following question on your paper:

2. What is preventing you from achieving those dreams?

Now listen up, because this next part is important. We want you to pick up that piece of paper, crumple it up, and throw it in the garbage. Doesn't that feel good?

Congratulations; you have done exactly what Sadie and Bessie Delany did during their 100+ years here on planet Earth. These two spunky ladies faced their fair share of racism, sexism, and just about every -ism there is, but that's not the point. The point is that they always stood proud, no matter what was thrown at them.

Sadie and Bessie never hesitated in the pursuit of their dreams. Sometimes they fought the system head-on. Sometimes they killed it with kindness. Sometimes they simply outsmarted the people trying to hold them back. No matter which of these strategies you employ in your own life, you'd be well served to take a tip or two from these unconquerable maiden ladies.

Having Our Say Resources

Websites

Having Our Say Homepage
This website will fill in you in on Having Our Say and its many multimedia adaptations. There's also a great timeline that breaks the timeline of the book into an easy-to-follow form.

St. Augustine's University
Want to learn more about the legendary school that produced the Delany family? Well, let's just say we know a guy...

Movie or TV Productions

Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years (1999)
In 1999—just three months after Sadie passed away—CBS aired a TV movie adaptation of the sisters' story to critical acclaim.

Having Our Say Trailer
So, yeah, it's very much a Made-For-TV movie (that old age makeup!) but we're sure that the film will hit you just as hard as the book did.

Articles and Interviews

Two 'Maiden Ladies' With Century-Old Stories to Tell
This is the article that first put the Delany sisters on the map. It was written by Amy Hill Hearth, author of Having Our Say, and was published in The New York Times.

A Brief Interview with Lemuel Delany Jr.
This interview with the son of Sadie and Bessie's brother complicates our image of the sisters, showing how Having Our Say changed all of the Delanys' lives forever.

A One-on-One With Amy Hill Hearth
In this interview, Amy Hill Hearth discusses the difference between writing fiction and non-fiction, as well as specific writing techniques she learned while working with the Delany sisters.

Video

The Delany Sisters
Check out this brief chat with the still-lively Delany sisters—the power of YouTube compels you!

Meet Sam Delany
Samuel R. Delany—son of Sam (no, not that son of Sam) and nephew to the sisters—is an accomplished writer in his own right. Looks like Sam has been looking to James Miliam for beard-spiration.

Audio

Having Our Say on KCUR
Although this chat focuses on the stage adaptation of Having Our Say, it provides a unique perspective on what we can learn from the Delany sisters today.

Images

Delany Family Tree
Consider this family tree to be your personal cheat sheet—if you ever get confused by the sheer number of characters, then Shmoop has you covered.

Bishop Henry Beard Delany
Here's Bishop Delany in the flesh. As a side note, we are totally stealing that decor for Shmoop HQ.

The Delany Sisters
All together now: "Awwww!"