Powerful essays offers an incisive glimpse into life as a Black man in America.
In this collection, Walker demonstrates the keen intellect and direct style that characterized his acclaimed 2010 memoir, Street Shadows. In an account of how he was racially profiled by a security guard at Emerson College, where he teaches creative writing, the author deftly combines both humor and humanity without obscuring the impact of such experiences on him as a husband, father, son, and educator. “The stories I favor,” he writes, “are not only upsetting but also uplifting; they are rich with irony and tinged with humor; they are unique, in some way, and lend themselves to interesting digressions, and their protagonists always confront villains, even if not always with success—when I come into a race story with these components, I prefer to delay its telling, allowing it to breathe, so to speak, like a newly uncorked Merlot.” Walker candidly considers his struggles discussing race with his children; clearly depicts the racism embedded in restaurant seating arrangements; and expressively recounts the terrifying spiral of fear, anger, and distress he experienced after seeking medical attention for his son, who had suffered multiple seizures. The author’s no-nonsense, few-words-wasted approach lends itself just as readily to an account of the exhilaration he and his siblings felt while watching the The Jackson 5ive cartoon in their family’s religious household in 1971: “Breaking the Sabbath was a violation of God’s law, pretty significant stuff, but then so, too, was an all-Negro cartoon.” In the moving “Dragon Slayers,” Walker shows how James Alan McPherson, an instructor at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, changed his outlook and approach as a writer. “My stories showed people being affected by drug addiction, racism, poverty, murder, crime, violence,” he writes, “but they said nothing about the spirit that, despite being confronted with what often amounted to certain defeat, would continue to struggle and aspire for something better.”
Crafted with honesty and wry comedic flair, these essays are both engaging and enraging.