In this impressive debut Marcus J. Guillory brilliantly weaves together the many obstacles of a young man growing into adulthood, the realities of urban life, the history of Louisiana Creole culture, the glory of the black cowboy, and the role of religion in shaping lives.
South Park, Houston, Texas, 1977, is where we first meet Ti’ John, a young boy under the care of his larger-than life father — a working-class rodeo star and a practitioner of vodouâ€”and his mother — a good Catholic and cautious disciplinarian — who forbids him to play with the neighborhood “hoodlums.” Ti’ John, throughout the era of Reaganomics and the dawn of hip-hop and cassette tapes, must negotiate the world around him and a peculiar gift he’s inherited from his father and Jules Saint-Pierre “Nonc” Sonnier, a deceased ancestor who visits the boy, announcing himself with the smell of smoke on a regular basis. In many ways, Ti’ John is an ordinary kid who loses his innocence as he witnesses violence and death, as he gets his heart broken by girls and his own embittered father, as he struggles to live up to his mother’s middle-class aspirations and his father’s notion of what it is to be a man. In other ways, he is different — from his childhood buddies and from the father who is his hero.
The question throughout this layered and complex coming-of-age story is will Ti’ John survive the bad side of life — and his upbringing — and learn how to recognize and keep what is good.
Pageants, Parlors, and Pretty Women: Race and Beauty in the Twentieth-Century South
From the South’s pageant queens to the importance of beauty parlors to African American communities, it is easy to see the ways beauty is enmeshed in southern culture. But as Blain Roberts shows in this incisive work, the pursuit of beauty in the South was linked to the tumultuous racial divides of the region, where the Jim Crow-era cosmetics industry came of age selling the idea of makeup that emphasized whiteness, and where, in the 1950s and 1960s, black-owned beauty shops served as crucial sites of resistance for civil rights activists. In these times of strained relations in the South, beauty became a signifier of power and affluence while it reinforced racial strife.
Roberts examines a range of beauty products, practices, and rituals–cosmetics, hairdressing, clothing, and beauty contests–in settings that range from tobacco farms of the Great Depression to 1950s and 1960s college campuses. In so doing, she uncovers the role of female beauty in the economic and cultural modernization of the South. By showing how battles over beauty came to a head during the civil rights movement, Roberts sheds new light on the tactics southerners used to resist and achieve desegregation.
Saint Monkey: A Novel
A stunning debut novel of two girls raised in hardship, separated by fortune, and reunited through tragedy.
Fourteen-year-old Audrey Martin, with her Poindexter glasses and her head humming the 3/4 meter of gospel music, knows she’ll never get out of Kentucky — but when her fingers touch the piano keys, the whole church trembles. Her best friend, Caroline, daydreams about Hollywood stardom, but both girls feel destined to languish in a slow-moving stopover town in Montgomery County.
That is, until chance intervenes and a booking agent offers Audrey a ticket to join the booming jazz scene in Harlem — an offer she canâ€™t resist, not even for Caroline. And in New York City the music never stops. Audrey flirts with love and takes the stage at the Apollo, with its fast-dancing crowds and blinding lights. But fortunes can turn fast in the city — young talent means tough competition, and for Audrey failure is always one step away. Meanwhile, Caroline sinks into the quiet anguish of a Black woman in a backwards country, where her ambitions and desires only slip further out of reach.
Jacinda Townsend’s remarkable first novel is a coming-of-age story made at once gripping and poignant by the wild energy of the Jazz Era and the stark realities of segregation. Marrying musical prose with lyric vernacular, Saint Monkey delivers a stirring portrait of American storytelling and marks the appearance of an auspicious new voice in literary fiction.
The Secret of Magic
In 1946, a young female attorney from New York City attempts the impossible: attaining justice for a black man in the Deep South.
Regina Robichard works for Thurgood Marshall, who receives an unusual letter asking the NAACP to investigate the murder of a returning black war hero. It is signed by M. P. Calhoun, the most reclusive author in the country.
As a child, Regina was captivated by Calhoun’s The Secret of Magic, a novel in which white and black children played together in a magical forest.
Once down in Mississippi, Regina finds that nothing in the South is as it seems. She must navigate the muddy waters of racism, relationships, and her own tragic past.The Secret of Magic brilliantly explores the power of stories and those who tell them.
The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery
It is one of the enduring enigmas of the human experience: many of our most iconic, creative endeavors — from Nobel Prize-winning discoveries to entrepreneurial inventions and works in the arts — are not achievements but conversions, corrections after failed attempts.
The gift of failure is a riddle. Like the number zero, it will always be both a void and the start of infinite possibility. The Rise — a soulful celebration of the determination and courage of the human spirit — makes the case that many of our greatest triumphs come from understanding the importance of this mystery.
This exquisite biography of an idea is about the improbable foundations of creative human endeavor. The Rise begins with narratives about figures past and present who range from writers to entrepreneurs; Frederick Douglass, Samuel F. B. Morse, and J. K. Rowling, for example, feature alongside choreographer Paul Taylor, Nobel Prize-winning physicists Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, Arctic explorer Ben Saunders, and psychology professor Angela Duckworth.
The Rise explores the inestimable value of often ignored ideas — the power of surrender for fortitude, the criticality of play for innovation, the propulsion of the near win on the road to mastery, and the importance of grit and creative practice. From an uncommonly insightful writer, The Rise is a true masterwork.