Colson Whitehead: ZZ Packer & Kevin Young

With the release of his new book, The Noble Hustle: Poker, Beef Jerky, and Death, Colson Whitehead did a comical Q&A for The New York Times. Read a quick snippet and add a new book to your reading list:

WWhitehead, Young, & Packerhat books are currently on your night stand?

I’ve been dipping into “Book of Hours,” by Kevin Young. I’m honored to have him as a friend, and grateful he’s such a gifted poet. His new book is a wrenching investigation of what it is to be a father — to lose one’s own, to raise a child in turn — and it’s superb, as usual.

What’s your favorite book to teach? 

One favorite is “Drinking Coffee Elsewhere,” by ZZ Packer, toggling between the stories “Brownies” and “The Ant of the Self,” depending on my mood. She’s nearing completion of her first novel, which is very exciting. And “Autobiography of Red,” by Anne Carson, even if it has no relation whatsoever to what the class is about. Especially if. I’d love to hip Red to some Joy Division records; I think he’d get a lot out of them. (Read more . . .)

Happy reading, y’all.

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Hurston/Wright: Legacy Award Winners

The Hurston/Wright Foundation held it’s annual Legacy Award ceremony last weekend. While I’m not certain as to whether winners received a plaque, certificate, or money, the list of nominees weren’t surprising or unheard of. Fiction nominees included Tayari Jones, National Book Award winner Jesmyn Ward, Colson Whitehead, and Danzy Senna, to name a few. The fiction and non-fiction award winners are featured below:

Mr. Fox by Helen OyeyemiFairy-tale romances end with a wedding, and the fairy tales don’t get complicated. In this book, the celebrated writer Mr. Fox can’t stop himself from killing off the heroines of his novels, and neither can his wife, Daphne. It’s not until Mary, his muse, comes to life and transforms him from author into subject that his story begins to unfold differently. Mary challenges Mr. Fox to join her in stories of their own devising; and in different times and places, the two of them seek each other, find each other, thwart each other, and try to stay together, even when the roles they inhabit seem to forbid it. Their adventures twist the fairy tale into nine variations, exploding and teasing conventions of genre and romance, and each iteration explores the fears that come with accepting a lifelong bond. Meanwhile, Daphne becomes convinced that her husband is having an affair, and finds her way into Mary and Mr. Fox’s game. And so Mr. Fox is offered a choice: Will it be a life with the girl of his dreams, or a life with an all-too-real woman who delights him more than he cares to admit? (Read an excerpt)

Courage to Dissent by Tomiko Brown-NaginThe Civil Rights movement that emerged in the United States after World War II was a reaction against centuries of racial discrimination. In this sweeping history of the Civil Rights movement in Atlanta–the South’s largest and most economically important city–from the 1940s through 1980, Tomiko Brown-Nagin shows that the movement featured a vast array of activists and many sophisticated approaches to activism. Long before “black power” emerged and gave black dissent from the mainstream civil rights agenda a new name, African Americans in Atlanta debated the meaning of equality and the steps necessary to obtain social and economic justice. This groundbreaking book uncovers the activism of visionaries–both well-known legal figures and unsung citizens–from across the ideological spectrum who sought something different from, or more complicated than, “integration.” Local activists often played leading roles in carrying out the integrationist agenda of the NAACP, but some also pursued goals that differed markedly from those of the venerable civil rights organization. Brown-Nagin discusses debates over politics, housing, public accommodations, and schools. She documents how the bruising battle over school desegregation in the 1970s, which featured opposing camps of African Americans, had its roots in the years before Brown v. Board of Education.

Read more about the finalists and nominees at the Hurston/Wright website. Happy reading, y’all.

Whitehead: Zone One

When I’m home alone, I often wonder what would happen if it all went down. What would really happen if the every person I’d ever known actually turned into zombies? Would I be able to bolt myself in my apartment for eternity? Well, I’d definitely have plenty to eat, but eventually . . . they’d probably get me. I hate to imagine that, but with Colson Whitehead’s new publication Zone One, I’d guess that we’ve baked our minds with too many apocalyptic shows and movies.

Whitehead mentioned the following in a past interview:

I’ve always had zombie anxiety dreams, ever since, you know, seeing Dawn of the Dead when I was in junior high. So, once a month I have some zombie dream. They’re fast, they’re slow. Sometimes they talk. Sometimes I’m alone. And I was definitely hoping that I would end this particular manifestation of anxiety dream by writing the book. And I was 95 percent successful. I had one a couple of days ago — perhaps that’s tied to publication. Not sure.

(Read an excerpt and more)

Happy reading, y’all.

Colson Whitehead Returns

As a fan of The Intuitionist, I’m excited to learn that Colson Whitehead has recently released a new book titled Sag Harbour. So I returned to my blog just in time because this black book news is in all the papers. In “How to Be Black at the Beach,” Ron Charles of the Washington Post writes:

No one writes with more acrobatic imagination and good humor about the complexities of race in America than Colson Whitehead. In “The Intuitionist” and “John Henry Days,” he evoked the nation’s racial history as deftly as he created bizarre alternatives. And in his 2003 paean to his home town, “The Colossus of New York,” he captured the choreography of a vibrant, multicultural city. Now he surprises us again with a charming autobiographical novel that comes honey-glazed with nostalgia. Detailing the life of a dorky teenager in a community that’s peculiar but oddly familiar, “Sag Harbor” is a kind of black “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” but it’s spiced with the anxieties of being African American in a culture determined to dictate what that means.

Like Stephen Carter, Whitehead writes about an enclave of upper-middle-class blacks, in this case a contented but separate summer resort on Long Island. (Whenever the narrator mentions Sag Harbor to white people in New York, they say, “Oh, I didn’t know black people went out there.”) Straddling parts of East Hampton and Southampton, Sag Harbor is an ancient town by American standards, a whaling community that predates the Revolution (it’s mentioned in “Moby-Dick”). But the 20-acre section that Whitehead celebrates was settled in the 1930s and ’40s by blacks from Harlem, Brooklyn and parts of New Jersey, professional people who “had fought to make a good life for themselves, vanquished the primitives and barbarians out to kill them, keep them out, string them up, and they wanted all the spoils of their struggle. A place to go in the summer with their families. To make something new.”

Readers who mistakenly imagine that authors are really describing themselves in their novels will be on firmer ground this time. “The people are made up,” Whitehead has said, “but the streets and the houses are all real. My old haunts are in here.” The narrator, Benji Cooper, knows that “according to the world, we were the definition of paradox: black boys with beach houses . . . but it never occurred to us that there was anything strange about it.” Every year he and his carefree younger brother leave their Manhattan prep school, where they seem as exotic as the sons of an African diplomat, to spend the summer in the ranch bungalow built by their grandparents on Sag Harbor. Though the novel covers several years of boyhood adventures, it opens with the anticipation of arriving by car in June and ends in the melancholy twilight of Labor Day when the new school year beckons once again with the chance of reinvention. (Read more . . .)

And thanks to The New York Times, an excerpt:

Notions of Roller Rink Infinity

First you had to settle the question of out. When did you get out? Asking this was showing off, even though anyone you could brag to had received the same gift and had come by it the same way you did. Same sun wrapped in shiny paper, same soft benevolent sky, same gravel road that sooner or later skinned you. It was hard not to believe it belonged to you more than anyone else, made for you and waiting all these years for you to come along. Everyone felt that way. We were grateful just to be standing there in that heat after such a long bleak year in the city. When did you get out? was the sound of our trap biting shut; we took the bait year after year, pure pinned joy in the town of Sag Harbor.
Then there was the next out: How long are you out for?–and the competition had begun. The magic answer was Through Labor Day or The Whole Summer. Anything less was to signal misfortune. Out for a weekend at the start of the season, to open up the house, sweep cracks, that was okay. But only coming out for a month? A week? What was wrong, were you having financial difficulties? Everyone had financial difficulties, sure, but to let it interfere with Sag, your shit was seriously amiss. Out for a week, a month, and you were allowing yourself to be cheated by life. Ask, How long are you out for? and a cloud wiped the sun. The question trailed a whiff of autumn. All answers contemplated the end, the death of summer at its very beginning. Still waiting for the bay to warm up so you could go for a swim and already picturing it frozen over. Labor Day suddenly not so far off at all. (Read more . . . )

Enjoy and happy reading, y’all.