The HNIC Report

More Booker Bashing

by Dax-Devlon Ross

Newark should be officially deemed a part of the Third World. From former Mayor Sharpe James’s shenanigans while in office to the current movement to skewer Cory Booker before he even finishes the first half of his first term, Newark politics  is as seedy (and utterly fascinating in a backwards sort of way) as anything Chinua Achebe wrote about  post-colonial Nigeria  a half-century ago. Meanwhile, the people of Newark exhibit the symptoms of a citizenry that’s been  so utterly abused by their government for so long that anyone who tries to heal them is regarded with a suspicious eye. The latest article on Cory Booker in the New York Times series chronicling his first year in office is Exhibit A )or Z, depending on how closely you’ve been following his tenure in Newark). For Booker it has been an unceasing battle with entrenched myopia and skin cynicism. Every move he makes is met with finger pointing and name calling. He’s not black. He doesn’t care about the city. He’s a sell-out. Now, apparently, there’s a burgeoning recall movement. Exactly what Newarkers hope to accomplish by ousting the mayor mid-term is woefully uncertain. Precisely how getting rid of him is going to benefit the city, the schools, the redevelopment projects already underway in the long run is equally unspecified. The one thing that is clear is that the idea of ousting a mayor in his first term when he has not committed any illegal act is  an insane waste of time. But, again, this is why I say Newark should be deemed part of the Third World.

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Where are all the Black Novelists?

by Dax-Devlon Ross

A friend sent me this essay from the New York Times the other day. She’d just finished reading my latest book of essays, A Staircase of Words, and she figured it would be of interest to me. It speaks to the challenges writers like myself face on a daily basis. Check it out.


I am a 46-year-old writer of “literary” fiction. I’ve had three novels published – the first for young people, the last two for adults. All have won minor prizes, been respectfully reviewed and sold modestly. I’ve been awarded a few fairly competitive fellowships and grants. The business is full of fiction writers like me. With one difference: I’m black, born and raised in the United States. At the parties and conferences I attend, and in the book reviews I read, I rarely encounter other African-American “literary” writers, particularly in my age bracket. There just don’t seem to be that many of us out there, and that’s something I’ve come to wonder about a great deal. And so I got on the phone with some editors and African-American writers to talk about it.

For many writers, middle age is when they hit their stride. Robert Gottlieb of Knopf, who has been Toni Morrison’s editor for many years, said, “Many very fine writers take time to get there.” Looking at the white American fiction writers who have the most cultural prominence, one quickly sees a large group in their 40s or 50s (Michael Chabon, Jonathan Franzen, Rick Moody, Jane Smiley, Michael Cunningham et al.) who have generally had four or more major works of fiction published. Gottlieb points out that Morrison’s first two books sold adequately, but it wasn’t until her third novel, “Song of Solomon,” published the year she turned 46, that she had a commercial breakthrough. “It was larger and more ambitious, demonstrating a new power and authority, and the world noticed,” he said. “Some careers start with a bang – ‘Invisible Man,’ ‘Catch-22.’ Others take time to find a significant readership – Anne Tyler, Toni. And sometimes I feel that those are the healthiest ones.”

But when you look at the careers of African- American writers, you don’t always see that healthy arc. Ralph Ellison, for example, seemed to lose his way completely after “Invisible Man.” These days, there are only a few names of black authors born in the United States, beyond Morrison’s, that the average reader of serious fiction might easily drop – Colson Whitehead, ZZ Packer, Edward P. Jones. Of these three, only Jones is over 40.

In some ways, the American literary scene is more racially and culturally diverse than ever. A few examples: Of the 21 writers on Granta’s recent Best of Young American Novelists list, six (including Packer and Uzodinma Iweala) are people of color (many colors: black, South and East Asian, Hispanic), and seven were born or raised outside the United States. Indian writers born or educated here, like Jhumpa Lahiri, Vikram Chandra and Kiran Desai, win critical acclaim and big sales. “Girlfriend,” “urban-lit” and other branches of commercial genre fiction by African-Americans have continued to enjoy a boom since the door-busting success of Terry McMillan’s “Waiting to Exhale” in 1992. But black authors writing in an ambitious, thoughtful way about American subjects are harder to find – even when they do get published. Malaika Adero, a senior editor at Atria Books, said: “Literary African-American writers have difficulty getting publicity. The retailers then don’t order great quantities of the books. Readers don’t know what books are available and therefore don’t ask for them. It’s a vicious cycle.”

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Africa: A Creation of the United States of Africa – is It People-Driven?

by Dax-Devlon Ross

A Creation of the United States of Africa – Is It
The Times of Zambia (Ndola)
By Hicks Sikazwe

“LADIES and gentlemen welcome to Libya. Kindly adjust
your seat belts we are about to land at Tripoli
International airport”, announces an airhostess on a
KLM 14.50 flight from Amsterdam in the Netherlands.
“Taking pictures is not allowed at the airport.
Alcoholic beverages are not permitted either in this
country,” she cautions further.

Passengers disembark from the aircraft which has since
ceased hissing.

On board are delegates to an activists’ meeting on the
setting up of an African Union (AU) government.
Eighteen Zambians out of the 22 invited to the
gathering are among the people now streaming from the
plane into the airport lobby for formalities.

Almost every body mumbles something about the
sweltering heat. Libya can be hot and in the cold
season it is another extreme, the locals confess.
Suddenly, officials (presumably from the Libyan
Foreign Affairs), swam the Zambian team, asking for
passports and later ushering the group to a posh
lounge at the airport.

One official specifically asks for passports from
journalists. I surrender mine so do my colleagues from
Zambia Daily Mail and The Post.

Well, this is Libya, the country whose leader Muammar
Gadaffi is currently championing the establishment of
a continental government that should transform Africa
into the United States of Africa.

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