SHORTLY AFTER KALISHA BUCKHANON found out that her story Upstate (St. Martin's Press, January 2005) was going to be published, her initial response was a resounding "Oh my goodness!" Her elation quickly cooled some. The tragic story of two young lovers she had written as a thesis project while attending The New School was not the piece of writing she thought would be recognized by a publisher. "This wasn't the first story I'd ever written; and it really wasn't the one I thought would be the first to get accepted and attract so much attention."
Buckhanon, however, was grateful for the chance to get her voice and her story out there to the reading public. [See BIBR, March-April 2005, THE WRITING LIFE, "And Now What?"] And readers have embraced Upstate like a breath of fresh air. She is just one of several first-time authors to be published in 2005. To whet the appetites of booklovers who look forward to reading something "fresh" during the summer--and in the early fall--the editors at Black Issues Book Review have pulled together a listing of first time authors and excerpts of their debut work. The books represent a mix of genres, indeed; so whether you enjoy literary fiction or inspiring nonfiction, here's a sample from a few up-and coming writers.
Mohammed Naseehi Ali
Mohammed Naseehi Ali, a native of Ghana' is a writer and musician. Ali's fiction and essays have been published in New Yorker, Mississippi Review, Bomb, Gathering of the Tribes and Essence. A graduate of Bennington College, he lives in Brooklyn, New York, with his wife and two daughter The characters in his debut collection of short stories are drawn with both humor and a natural forcefulness.
The Prophet of Zongo Street: Stories Amistad/HarperCollins, August 2005 $22.95, ISBN 0-060-52354-9
Here is an excerpt from the story "Live In":
"The money," Shatu blurts out. "I can't find it. She opens her palms and lifts both hands in the air, as if she expects the money to drop on the floor. She recalls it being in her left hand just a short while ago. "Or was it my right hand?" she wonders. She searches all her pockets, and finds the crumpled sheet of paper that has the shopping list, but not the money Marge Hammers, the woman Shatu works for as a live-in maid, has given her for their biweekly grocery shopping.
The cashier at register four, whose brightly lettered pink and white name tag identifies her as Tammy, stares at Shatu through thick prescription glasses, her eyes blue and vibrant. "Why don't you go look for it," says Tammy.
Shatu runs from aisle to aisle, panting heavily. Shatu is afraid of what Marge will say when she hears about the lost shopping money. She is also concerned about not disturbing the peace of the rich white shoppers in the supermarket with her black histrionics.
Shatu combs through every aisle but after fifteen minutes of continued search, there was still no sign of the money. Shatu retreats to the checkout area.
"You can't find it?" Tammy asks. Shatu opens her mouth, and makes an attempt to speak, but instead tears run down her cheeks.
"Hon', I think you better stop crying. Go home and tell Marge what happened. I'm sure she'll understand, you know."
On reaching the house, Shatu waits a few minutes in front of the door, imagining the possible consequences of her impending disclosure. She is almost two hours late now, and knows for sure that Marge is probably fuming with rage that she has taken so long to return. Marge is watching a soap opera when Shatu walks into the living room. Not until Shatu is standing within three feet of her does Marge turn to look at her. As the two make eye contact, Shatu breaks down in tears, and it is with much effort that she is able to control herself and to tell Marge what has happened. Marge listens attentively, without any trace of anger or disappointment on her face.
When Shatu has finished, Marge asks for her walking aid, and slowly but surely, walks the twelve steps to her bedroom. She emerges from the room with two, crisp hundred-dollar bills, which she hands to Shatu, without comment. Shatu is not quite sure what to make of her mistress's kindness, and can only say in between sobs, "Thank you very much, Madam. May God bless you." "Don't be silly," Marge replies. Shatu's grandmother had narrated a tale to her when she was growing up. It was the tale of Mother Hen and her six young chicks, who lived once upon a time during an era of severe famine on the earth, had no option but to steal to survive. At the beginning of each month, the mother would send the chicks into the wilderness to find food for the family. On their return from their first successful hunt, Mother Hen, even before touching the food, asked her children where they had found it and also, most importantly, how the owner had reacted when they had taken the food. They explained to their mother that they had stolen the food from a gorilla family and that the entire monkey clan had given them a chase for many miles, screamed at the top of their lungs, waved sticks and clubs in the air and even threatened to cut off their chickenheads if they didn't return the food. After listening patiently to the story, Mother Hen had told her young ones, "Let's sit down and eat the food."
During their next foray, however, the chicks stole from a fox pack that did not chase the culprits, but rather stood and watched as the chicks made away with their loot. When Mother Hen heard about the foxes' reaction, she asked her children to return the food to their owners, and proceeded to caution her young ones thus: The first family expressed all their anger right when you stole their food, and because of that may have even forgotten about the theft soon after you had left. But beware of the person who hides his anger in his heart, for he may be planning a wicked revenge against you." "God save me," prays Shatu.
Denise Nicholas is best known as an actor for her roles in the television shows Room 222 and In the Heat of the Night. Before establishing a drama career, Nicholas was a Freedom Rider in 1964. She draws from that era and her experiences to create the story line for her first novel. Freshwater Road is the story of a young woman who moves from Ann Arbor, Michigan, to Mississippi in 1964, to help found a Freedom School, and it follows...