Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Chapter 93: In Which I Re-Assert That My New Book Is Coming Out In July

The new book's coming out in July. This is not a setback. It's a benefit. The proper window to send a book out for blurbs is four months. That gives your reviewers time to read. We were rushing the book to print and did not allow ourselves that window. I'm glad the folks at Six Gallery were smart enough to slow down and consider this. Also, much congratulations to my partner-in-crime Christine Stoddard, who recently signed a deal for a collection of articles from her magazine, Quail Bell. So by the end of 2013, it's possible we'll both have two books. Onward and upward.

Everybody who contributed to the Kickstarter will get their incentives. And the books will be at their absolute best quality, which is ultimately what matters most. That said, there is still cause for (immediate) celebration.

New edition of Jacks Daniels Sessions!!!!!!1111111

As was promised, as is delivered, and just in time for tour. Improved resolution on Rachel's beautiful illustrations, and some additional bits from myself. I am not George Lucas. I did not add Gungan celebrations or ghost Hayden Christensen to my book. But there's some small stuff here and there, mostly additions to "Assistant." One of these additions involves the African folk tale of "The Cow Tail Switch."

"Assistant" is a very personal story for me, and I'll be brief, because authors describing how their work should be read is obnoxious. But these are my intentions. It is a story about an African-American discovering Africa. It is not comfortable for him. Africa is represented by the orisha Mr. Redbone, who is an ambiguous figure. He is wise, but not all-knowing; he is capable of comfort, but also capable of causing deep discomfort; he has answers, but not all the answers. He is Africa to a black American. In meeting Mr. Redbone, Elijah starts to learn about his heritage, and it is not a comfortable tutelage. In this story, I wanted to capture that degree of apprehension and unfamiliarity that comes from learning about the motherland, and I hope I did.

There is a trick that is played on black people. We are not taught about our history. We're not taught about Ife and Benin. Hell, we're not even taught about Egypt, which is universally considered one of the greatest cultures this world has ever seen. We go to school and learn about Queen Elizabeth and Shakespeare as if that's our history. Our culture is established as something that began with slavery, but here's the catch: you can't talk about slavery either. Nobody wants to talk about how black people were human chattel 140 years ago. That raises too many uncomfortable questions about our current position. I live in Louisiana, and recently I was talking to some Swedish backpackers at a hostel I was staying at. They were telling me about some plantation tour that has actors in knickers and gowns, but absolutely no mention of slavery. As if all that cotton and tobacco just picked itself. The very idea is absurd, and even insulting. My ancestors who built the country are apparently unimportant, but these assholes who spent all their time riding around in coaches and having debutante balls get represented? Absolutely deplorable. But that's the way things are.

Many black children are nihilists. I fully realized this when I lived in Oakland. I'd listen to them on the bus, in the classroom when I taught. I got a face full of it when I was doing social work.  They've grown hard from a world of violence, and as such, all that both boys and girls think about is violence. They brag about their ability to fight. They openly talk about killing other black people. And sometimes I wonder if things would be different if, at some point, somebody told them that everything the Europeans had, we had also had. Kings. Queens. Princesses. Armies. Battles. Slaves. Castles (what else do you think a pyramid is?). Empires. The only thing we didn't have was a convenient location right next to Asia so we could learn about gunpowder.

Our histories as Africans, and as American slaves, are erased. As far as your average black kid is concerned, our entire race began with the passing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. And what has been the legacy since then? Drugs. Poverty. Violence. I just wish somebody would point out that there's more to our culture. A lot more.

But I digress. When I was a boy, I was very much like Elijah. My views on Africa were informed by popular culture, what I saw in Bugs Bunny cartoons. I learned the truth through reading folktale books around the house, and an early one I read was "The Cow Tail Switch," a very short story that is, at its root, about mortality. What does it mean to die? How do humans achieve a sort of immortality? From there, I read stories about Tortoise, and Anansi, and Osiris, and moved onto American myths like High John de Conquer. In doing so, I gained a view of African as a diverse, dynamic continent that birthed a diverse, dynamic race.

It is the same for Elijah, a character growing up in a culture of violence. His introduction to the African is distressing, as it is for any person brought up to think of Africa as a backwards, homogeneous place. The folklore serves as another inroad for him. I'm glad I got to include these tales as an aspect of his education. For the character development, but also because they're just damn good stories, and I have a hell of a time retelling them.

Back to writing.

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