Grant Park by Leonard Pitts, Jr.
"A novel as significant as it is engrossing." —Booklist, starred review
Comparing the real-life police shootings of African-American men to the fictional shooting in his novel that propels the plot forward, Pitts says that he "knew that Grant Park was timely, but I could not be coming out at a better time." Pitts is hoping to "fire up some dialogue" about race with his third novel, Grant Park (Agate Bolden, Sept.), which features an African-American journalist and his white editor, both veterans of the 1960s civil rights movement, who collide on the eve of Obama's election as president. Malcolm Toussaint, the journalist, is "sick and tired of being sick and tired" of how Americans deal with race after hearing of an unarmed African-American being shot by Chicago police even as people are celebrating Obama's historic presidential campaign and certain victory over John McCain.
Grant Park is a page-turning and provocative look at black and white relations in contemporary America, blending the absurd and the poignant in a powerfully well-crafted narrative that showcases Pitts's gift for telling emotionally wrenching stories.
Grant Park begins in 1968, with Martin Luther King's final days in Memphis. The story then moves to the eve of the 2008 election, and cuts between the two eras as it unfolds. Disillusioned columnist Malcolm Toussaint, fueled by yet another report of unarmed black men killed by police, hacks into his newspaper's server to post an incendiary column that had been rejected by his editors. Toussaint then disappears, and his longtime editor, Bob Carson, is summarily fired within hours of the column's publication.
While a furious Carson tries to find Toussaint—at the same time dealing with the reappearance of a lost love from his days as a 60s activist—Toussaint is abducted by two improbable but still-dangerous white supremacists plotting to explode a bomb at Obama's planned rally in Grant Park. Toussaint and Carson are forced to remember the choices they made as idealistic, impatient young men, when both their lives were changed profoundly by their work in the civil rights movement.
Advance Praise for Leonard Pitts, Jr.'s novel Grant Park
"The state of US race relations in 1968 and 2008 is seen through the eyes of two veteran Chicago newsmen, one black and one white, in this opportune novel. . . . Pitts adroitly blends history with fiction and actual figures (King, Obama) with characters in a plot that builds suspense around the supremacists’ plans as anger between the races gives way to understanding. A novel as significant as it is engrossing." —Booklist, starred review
"In the aftermath of this summer's racially motivated mass murder in Charleston, South Carolina, by an avowed white supremacist, there's near-eerie prescience in Pitts' historical novel. . .[Grant Park], with urgency and passion, makes readers aware that the mistakes of the past are neglected at the future's peril." —Kirkus Reviews
"This high-stakes, hard-charging political thriller from Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Pitts (Freeman) tells the saga of two journalists, switching between the time periods of Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1968 assassination and election day 2008. Sixty-year-old Malcolm Toussaint is a popular black syndicated news columnist writing for the Chicago Post who has two Pulitzer Prizes and resides in a “trophy” mansion. However, he has grown “tired” if not embittered over the frustrating lack of progress in race relations between whites and blacks.
After receiving one too many racist emails from his readers, he responds by composing a blunt, scathing column, but his white editor, Bob Carson, kiboshes it. After Malcolm hacks into Bob’s computer and publishes the controversial column anyway, both men are deemed culpable and fired. Following this, a pair of white supremacists kidnap Malcolm; they also reveal their heinous plan to detonate a “McVeigh bomb” in Grant Park when Barack Obama appears there, as the clock begins ticking to stop them. Pitts effectively builds the backstory in which young Malcolm witnesses King’s fatal shooting in Memphis, and young Bob falls in love with the political black activist Janeka Lattimore, who now resurfaces in his life. The sharply etched characters, careful attention to detail, and rich newspaper lore propel Pitts’s socially relevant novel." —Publishers Weekly Review for GRANT PARK
"Pitts masterfully revisits [election night on November 4, 2008] and four decades of the civil rights struggle to create one of the most suspenseful and spectacular fictitious moments you'll experience this fall." —Patrik Henry Bass, Essence
"Pitts does a skillful job of building tension in the novel's historical sections as well as on Election Day. . . . He also does something not every political thriller writer does: builds believable, complex characters." — Colette Bancroft, Tampa Bay Times
"And then there are those thrills—gasping, mouth-gaping page-turners that author Leonard Pitts Jr. weaves through another realism: truthful, brutal plot-lines about racial issues of the last five decades, mulling over exactly how far we’ve really come. That makes this will-they-live-or-won't-they nail-biter into something that also made me think, and I absolutely loved it." —Terri Schlichenmeyer, The Bookworm Sez
"An important book, one that honestly examines the current, tumultuous racial divide in our country and demands we not turn away from its harsh realities." —Amy Canfield, Miami Herald
Purchase Grant Park by Leonard Pitts Jr.
Hardback available October 13, 2015
Ebook available October 19, 2015
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SNEAK PEEK AT GRANT PARK
GRANT PARK: CHAPTER ONE
Martin Luther King stood at the railing, facing west. The moon was a pale crescent just rising in early twilight to share the sky with a waning sun. He leaned over, joking with the men in the parking lot below. A couple of them were wrestling playfully with James Orange, a good-natured man with a build like a brick wall.
“Now, you be careful with preachers half your size,” King teased him.
“Dr. King,” called Orange in a plaintive voice, “it’s two of them and one of me. You should be asking them not to hurt me.”
“Doc,” someone called out from below, “this is Ben Branch. You remember Ben.”
“Oh yes,” said King. “He’s my man. How are ya, Ben?”
Another voice yelled up from below. “Glad to see you, Doc.”
As Malcolm Toussaint moved toward King, it struck him that the preacher seemed somehow lighter than he had the last time Malcolm had seen him. It had been late one night a week before, by the Dumpsters out back of the Holiday Inn. The man Malcolm met that night had seemed… weighted, so much so that even Malcolm had found himself concerned and moved—Malcolm, who had long scorned the great reverend doctor, who had, in the fashion of other young men hip, impatient, and cruel, mocked him as “De Lawd.” But that was before Malcolm had met the man. That was before they had talked. Now he moved toward King, his mind roiling with the decision that had sprung from that moment, the news he had come to share. King, he knew, would be pleased. There would be a smile, perhaps a heavy hand clamping on Malcolm’s shoulder. “Good for you, Brother Malcolm,” he would say. “Good for you.”
Malcolm was vaguely amused to find himself here on this balcony, anticipating this man’s approval. If you had told him just a few days ago that he would be here, ready to go back to school, ready to embrace nonviolent protest, he would have laughed. But that, too, was before. Malcolm meant to raise his hand just then, to catch King’s attention, but a movement caught his eye. Just a reflected ray of the dying sun, really, glinting off something in a window across the street. Something that—he knew this instinctively—should not have been there. He wondered distractedly what it was.
King’s voice drew him back. “I want you to sing it like you’ve never sung it before,” he was calling to someone in the parking lot below. “Sing it real pretty.” And Malcolm realized he had missed something, because he had no idea what they were talking about. His attention had been distracted by… what was that?
“It’s getting chilly.” Yet another voice calling to King from below. “I think you’ll need a topcoat.”
“Okay, Jonesy,” King was saying. “You really know how to take good care of me.”
And here, the moment breaks, time fracturing as time sometimes will into its component parts, until an event is no longer composed of things happening in a sequence, but somehow all happens at once. And you can see and touch and live all the smaller moments inside the right now. This is how it is for Malcolm Toussaint now. King is laughing. Malcolm is taking a step toward him. King is straightening. Laughter is echoing from below. King is reaching into a pocket for his cigarettes. He is becoming aware of Malcolm on his left. His head is coming around. There are the bare beginnings of a welcoming smile. And Malcolm knows. Suddenly knows. And Malcolm is leaping, leaping across space, across time itself, becoming airborne—he was sure of it, that detail felt right, even though by this time King is barely six feet away. Malcolm grabbing two hands full of expensive silk, yanking Martin Luther King off balance, yanking him down hard in the same instant they all hear the popping sound like a firecracker, in the same instant he feels the soft-nosed 30.06 bullet whistle past his cheek like a phantom breath, in the same instant he falls awkwardly across King’s chest.
And then time seems to reel for a crazy breathless moment, as if decid¬ing what to do now. The fulcrum of history teetering, the future hanging, suspended in midair.
Until all at once and with a brutal force, time decides itself and slams back into gear.
A woman shrieked.
Someone yelled, “Somebody is shooting!”
Someone yelled, “Doc, are you OK?”
Someone yelled, “Stay down!”
Malcolm’s breath was ragged in his own ears. His heart hammered like drums. Then from beneath him, he heard a familiar baritone voice say calmly, very calmly, but yet, with a touch of breathless wonder. “Oh my God. Was that a gunshot?”
Their eyes met. Malcolm didn’t speak. Couldn’t speak. “Brother Malcolm,” said Martin Luther King, his voice still suffused with wonder and yet, also, an almost unnatural calm, “I think you just saved my life.”
Malcolm was overwhelmed by the thereness of the man. He was not myth and mist and history. He was not a posterboard image on a wall behind a child dutifully reciting in a child’s thin, sweet tenor, “I have a dream today.” No, he was there, beneath 20-year-old Malcolm Toussaint, who had fallen crosswise on top of him. Malcolm could feel the weight and heft of him, the fall and rise of his chest. He could see his very pores, could smell the tobacco on his breath, the Aramis on his collar. Martin Luther King was there, still alive, beneath him. Malcolm opened his mouth to speak.
And then, he awoke.
He did not scream. He did not sit bolt upright panting and shivering in the predawn chill. The dream was an old one, had haunted his sleep off and on for 40 years, and had long since lost the power to shake him. No, by now it was almost an old friend, dropping by every now and again to remind him of the singular failure of his life, that fateful instant when he had seen—he had seen—but did not react in time, did not understand in time, froze. Sometimes, as tonight, the dream gave him a do-over, allowed him to react in time, let him make it right.
More often, the dream unfolded precisely as that awful moment had unfolded, less a true dream than just a memory relived while sleeping. Malcolm failing to act, failing to understand what he saw, failing to realize what was about to happen until the very instant it did. Failing. The shot coming. The bullet driving Martin Luther King down as a hammer drives a nail. The gore spattering. Malcolm Toussaint standing there, not six feet away, impotent, staring.
He pushed the covers away, sat on the edge of the bed, the hardwood floor cool beneath his bare feet. No more time to dwell on the thing he had failed to do back when Lyndon Johnson was president and the space race was in full swing. It was time to face today. And today, he was going to be fired.
It was even possible he was going to be arrested; he supposed there might be some statute that criminalized what he had done. He didn’t think prosecution was likely—surely, they’d leave him some tattered shred of his previous dignity—though he could not dismiss the possibility out of hand. But at the very least, yes, he would be fired. And he would deserve firing as much as any of the serial plagiarists and fiction writers he had railed against so loudly, the fucking liars who had so spectacularly besmirched a noble profession, his noble profession, in the last 20 years.
Now, he was one of them. He was journalism’s latest scandal. A storied career—from a hovel on the south side of Memphis to this palace in Chicago, two Pulitzer Prizes, countless lesser awards lining the walls of his office—would end in ruin today. No more twice-weekly nationally syndicated column. No more New York Times bestsellers blurbed by Oprah Winfrey and Bill Clinton. No more daily radio talk show. No more regular appearances on the Sunday morning political programs. No more. Nor would anyone speak in his defense. The National Association of Black Journalists, which had given him a lifetime achievement award just four years ago, would maintain an embarrassed silence, the NAACP would look the other way. He would be a pariah. And the worst part is, he would deserve it.
Inevitably, someone would ask why he did it. And what could he say? He could tell them the truth, but they would never understand it. He regretted what he had done, yes. But he was not sorry. Even now, having slept fitfully on it, he was not sorry. Did that make sense? Would they get the distinction?
“I just got tired,” he would say. And they would ask him, not understanding, “Tired of what?” But someone in the mob, he imagined, black like him, journalist like him, up in years like him, would not need to ask. Would only close his notebook and shake his head, would understand if not condone and would, maybe…
Malcolm got out of bed and padded toward a marble bathroom not much smaller than the house he had grown up in. It was just a little after four in the morning. If he hurried, he could get into the building, pack up his office, the mementoes of a 36-year career, and be gone before anyone got there. The alternative made him shudder. The alternative was to go in there, endure the humiliation of their questions and their anger, and be required to wait outside his office while security—“Loss Prevention,” they called it now—threw his things in a box and then escorted him out under the stunned and disappointed gaze of people he had worked with, laughed with, fought with, mentored.
He showered quickly in the walk-in stall, where needles of water hit you from five directions at once. Moments later, he used his towel to wipe clean a circle of mirror and began to shave the face of the old man who stared back at him.
It was always something of a shock to apply those words to himself, but the evidence of the mirror could not be denied. His eyes were tired and sad, nested in twin hollows of wrinkles and crinkles. His brown skin seemed papery and thin. The short black Afro he had worn that awful day on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel had shrunk down to a defeated gray frizz, thinning on the top.
Malcolm was 60. He looked 70.
He felt 80. Arthritis had stiffened his joints. His blood pressure was a problem. His eyesight was going to hell. His feet hurt. Worst of all, there was the fatigue, an abiding exhaustion not so much of body, he felt, as of mind. Of spirit. Living had become an act of penance. He was tired. Indeed, he had been so tired for so long that he could barely remember being anything else. The happy young man who had approached Martin Luther King in the last instant of the great man’s life seemed a stranger. No, a lie. A memory of someone who never was.
Malcolm shaved. He dressed quickly. Long johns, blue jeans, long-sleeved blue shirt with the logo of the Chicago Post above the breast pocket, a fur-lined, waist-length jacket, a Bulls cap on his head. No need for one of the natty ties and sport coats that always made his slovenly young colleagues roll their eyes and laugh behind their hands. That was the uniform of a man working in an office, something he no longer was.
He walked slowly, down the hall and down the gently winding staircase, past the African-American folk art, mostly paintings and a few small sculptures, that had been Marie’s passion until she died of breast cancer. It had always made him feel a bit like he was living in a museum, all that fancy art covering the walls and tables, but Marie was two years dead and he hadn’t yet taken it down. Doing that, he supposed, would be like admitting that she actually was gone, that it wasn’t a mistake, an oversight, something for which he could demand a recount. That was something he was not yet prepared to do.
In the living room, he pulled on his gloves, images of his son and daughter and their spouses and children watching him from the mantel. Both were married, raising their families in California. He usually saw them at Thanksgiving, when they inevitably started the argument that was becoming all too familiar since his wife’s death, the one about how he should retire, sell the house, and join them on the West Coast. With Mom gone, did he really need the big house? At his age, did he really need the Chicago winters?
At his age. As if, having reached 60, there was nothing left for him to do except wait for death. And the hell of it was, since Marie left him, there were days he found he couldn’t think of anything better to do.
Enough, enough, enough.
His car was parked at the bottom of the stairs in the driveway that circled the front of the house, looping around a fountain—off for the winter—like a doughnut around a hole. Malcolm drove a red Corvette. It was hard on his knees and a four-wheeled cliché for a man of his age, but he couldn’t help himself. He loved that car. He lowered himself into it now, wincing a bit as Uncle Arthur—his mother’s name for arthritis, once upon a time—took a hammer to his bones. As always, he was compensated for his suffering when the car started with a deep, satisfying roar and he eased it around the circle, down the drive, and to the street. At the mailbox, he stopped and lowered his window to pluck out the day’s paper.
Malcolm folded the paper open and turned on the interior light. “Day of Reckoning,” read the headline, above photos of John McCain and Barack Obama giving speeches. Election Day. With all that he was dealing with, he had almost forgotten. Almost. He wanted to go and vote this morning when the polls opened, but he wondered if his presence—everyone in town knew his face, after all—might cause too much of a distraction, especially today. What an irony, he thought, if what he’d done forced him to miss the most historic election of his lifetime.
He flipped the paper over and there it was. His sig picture and the column that Bob Carson, his editor, had rejected, the one he’d said was too furious, too incendiary, unworthy of him and destined to be published in the Chicago Post only after Sarah Palin wed Jeremiah Wright on a nude beach in Jamaica. “I’m doing you a favor,” Bob had said. “Go home. Get some rest. We’ll talk about it tomorrow.”
He had never had a column rejected before. Granted, he’d never written anything like this before, but still… Malcolm had cursed Bob and threatened to quit, taking with him all the prestige his byline brought to this third-rate paper in a time when even first-rate papers were cutting staff, cutting sections, cutting news hole, and looking to the future as one stares down the barrel of a gun. But Bob had stood firm. “Go home,” he had repeated. “Get some rest.”
Malcolm had stormed out. He had taken his case to the managing editor, to the editor, to the publisher. Each had read the column—this column, that now sat below the fold on the front page. Each had paled visibly by the time they reached the end, even Lydia Barnett, the publisher. She had looked up at him, this stylish sister of about 40 years, of whom he had always secretly said in his heart, “Man, if I was just 20 years younger…” and he knew he was doomed from the moment she began to speak in that honeyed voice one uses to instruct children and the feeble-minded.
“Malcolm, you know we can’t publish this. Why did you even bring this to me? You think I’m going to interfere with an editorial decision?”
“I think you should. In this case, at least.”
“Well, I’m sorry, Malcolm, but I’m not.”
“Lydia, I know it’s on the line, but—”
“On the line?” Her dark eyes had flashed like the warning lights at a railroad crossing. “Malcolm, this isn’t on the line. This is so far over the line you can’t even see the line from here. You’d have to board a plane to get back to the line!”
“Come on, Lydia,” he said. “I wouldn’t expect them to understand.” He cocked his head to indicate the white editors, the whole white world, beyond the walls of her office. “But you should get where I’m coming from.”
Now thunderclouds rolled into those eyes, and he knew he had gone too far. “Do not,” she said, “play blacker than thou with me, Malcolm Toussaint. You know better. There is no form of condescension, paternalism, sexism, or racism that I don’t know firsthand. I had to climb over all of that to get to sit in this chair. And the one good thing about it is, after all of that, I don’t have to prove who I am, to you, or anybody else.”
“Lydia, I didn’t mean it like that. I’m just saying—”
“I know what you meant, Malcolm. You should go home, take a few days off. When’s the last time you had a vacation?”
“Maybe I could rewrite it? Soften it a little?”
“No. This piece will not run in my paper. Go home.”
He had left, but he had not gone home. Instead, he had gone to a bar he knew on the South Side, where he had spent the afternoon staring morosely into one beer after another. And there, he had hatched a plan. When he returned to the Post offices in the big building on Michigan Avenue, it was late. Very late. Copy editors were pulling on their heavy coats, the police reporter shutting down the scanners, the janitor pushing a big trashcan between the mostly empty desks. The newsroom was quiet. The “daily miracle” had been accomplished once again.
He had slipped past them into Bob’s empty office, closed the blinds against the leakage of light, and fired up Bob’s computer. Seven months ago, Bob had given him his password, with its administrative access to the Post’s systems, to fix some glitch in a column Bob didn’t have time to get to. And sure enough, Bob had not changed his password in all those months. Malcolm typed it in—Bob_dylan#1—and Bob’s desktop flashed into view.
Malcolm’s original plan had been to pluck the banned column from the deleted items basket and put it in its customary spot on the editorial page, back of the CitySide section. But sitting there at Bob’s desk, signed on under Bob’s name, he had a better idea. Or at least, a bolder one. It was the kind of idea you get when you’ve had a few and some voice in your mind says, “In for a penny, in for a pound,” and you nod to yourself because that seems, under the circumstances, sage advice.
So he had called up the front page, which had already been transmitted to the pressroom. If the pressroom chief was ready to roll the presses and saw that Bob—Malcolm, actually—had the file open and called upstairs to find out what was going on, Malcolm knew he would be well and truly screwed, so he had to work fast, and he did. With a few deft keystrokes and clicks, Malcolm stripped a story off the bottom of the front page—some wire piece about voters who were still undecided on the eve of the election—and dropped his forbidden column in its place.
And then, even though time was critical, even though the pressroom would be looking for this page any second, he paused. There was a moment, a moment of absolute clarity, when he knew what he was about to do and what would happen and what it would cost him and that doing it was absolutely insane. A moment. And then he pressed send.
( Continued... )
© 2015 All rights reserved. Book excerpt reprinted by permission of the author, Leonard Pitts Jr. Do not reproduce, copy or use without the author's written permission. This excerpt is used for promotional purposes only.
Intimate Conversation with Leonard Pitts, Jr.
A knowledgeable, compassionate and relentlessly truthful writer. —Howard Frank Mosher, Washington Post
Leonard Pitts, Jr. is a nationally syndicated columnist for the Miami Herald and winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, in addition to many other awards. He is also the author of the novels Freeman (Agate Bolden, 2012) and Before I Forget (Agate Bolden, 2009); the collection Forward From this Moment: Selected Columns, 1994-2009, Daily Triumphs, Tragedies, and Curiosities (Agate Bolden, 2009); and Becoming Dad: Black Men and the Journey to Fatherhood (Agate Bolden, 2006).
Pitts’ work has made him an in-demand lecturer. He maintains a rigorous speaking schedule that has taken him to colleges, civic groups and professional associations all over the country. He has also been invited to teach at a number of prestigious institutions of higher learning, including Hampton University, Ohio University, the University of Maryland and Virginia Commonwealth University. In the fall of 2011, he was a visiting professor at Princeton University, teaching a course in writing about race.
Twice each week, millions of Miami Herald newspaper readers around the country seek out his rich and uncommonly resonant voice. In a word, he connects with them. Nowhere was this demonstrated more forcefully than in the response to his initial column on the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. Pitts' column, "We'll Go Forward From This Moment," an angry and defiant open letter to the terrorists, circulated the globe via the Internet. It generated upwards of 30,000 emails, and has since been set to music, reprinted in poster form, read on television by Regis Philbin and quoted by Congressman Richard Gephardt as part of the Democratic Party's weekly radio address.
Born and raised in Southern California, Pitts now lives in suburban Washington, D.C., with his wife and children.
BPM: When did you get your first inkling to write, and how did you advance the call for writing?
People ask all the time: "Why did you decide to be a writer?" It's a question I always struggle with, because I never decided to be a writer. In other words, there was a never a decision process, per se. I knew from the time I was five that this was what I was put here to do. So the goal for the remaining years of my childhood and, indeed, my professional life, was simply about trying to become good at it and then trying to become better. From the time I was young, I liked telling stories, I enjoyed getting reactions. I think all of us are given certain gifts, certain aptitudes, certain things that fit us, that seem to come more easily to us than they do to other people. For me, that was words. In school, I sweated and worked my tail off for "C" I ever got in math. But every "A" I got in English was as easy as pie.
BPM: Mr. Pitts, how did you get started as a writer?
Well, I began to think of myself as a writer from the time I was five years old, which was a good thing, because it gave me a lot of time to be bad at it. I started sending poems and stories to magazines when I was 12 years old, first became published when I was 14, and first got paid for being published when I was 18. I spent the next 18 years working primarily as a music critic for a variety of magazines and radio programs.
I was editor of SOUL, a black entertainment tabloid, did freelance work for such magazines as Spin, Record Review and Right On!, co-created and edited a radio entertainment news magazine called RadioScope and was a writer for Casey Kasem's radio countdown show, Casey's Top 40.
BPM: Tell us about your passion for writing. Why do you write? What drives you?
I write because it's my profession, I write because it's the only thing I've ever wanted to do. I write because, if it wasn't my profession and nobody was paying me to do it, I know that I would be still be doing it. I write because this is what I love and it's who I am. I think we tell stories to figure out who we are and what we are about and I am proud of being part of that continuum. I am also driven by the need to see if I can better my best. It's a never-ending game of "Can you top this?"
BPM: Do you ever let the book stew – leave it for months and then come back to it?
I've never left a book for months. I've been forced to leave a book for weeks though, because sometimes, life intrudes. But the best way to write a book is in one long push of consistent, daily effort. A novel is, at bottom, an elaborate lie. It's an unspoken bargain between writer and reader: I'm going to tell you this story of things that never happened - maybe never could happen – and in exchange for you suspending your disbelief, I'm obligated to make sure this tale I tell is entertaining, funny, gripping, suspenseful, emotionally involving, whatever. But to sell the "lie" you're telling as a writer, you have to first believe it yourself. And I've found that if you stay away from a novel for too long, it can damage your ability to believe in the "lie" - the situations and characters you're chronicling can start to seem cardboard, less real to you. And if you don't believe in them, the reader definitely won't.
BPM: Introduce us to your book, Grant Park and the main characters.
Forty years ago, two young men had life-altering encounters with Martin Luther King. Malcolm, a black kid, was a college dropout who scorned nonviolent protest, and embraced street violence as a way of bringing social change. A chance meeting one night with King turned him around, forced him to see the limitations of street violence and convinced him to return to school. He was on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel, about to share this news with King when James Earl Ray fired his fatal shot. He has never gotten over what he saw. Bob, a white kid, was attending a Bible college in Mississippi where he fell powerfully in love with Janeka Lattimore, a young black civil rights activist. They attended King's last march – the one in Memphis that ended in a riot. Bob was beaten bloody by an angry young black man in the crowd and right after that, Janeka left him, saying she wanted to go to a black school now, saying she wanted to "be with her people." "I thought I was your people, too," said Bob. He has never gotten over losing her.
Forty years later, Malcolm is a celebrated columnist for a Chicago newspaper, burned out by one too many cases of police violence against unarmed African-Americans and white people not caring about. He writes an angry column - "I'm sick and tired of white folks' bullshit," he says – and when the newspaper refuses to publish it, he hacks his editor's computer and publishes it anyway - one the front page of the paper, on Election Day of 2008. Then unbeknownst to anyone, he is kidnapped by two would-be white supremacist terrorists who intend to blow him up in Grant Park, where President–elect Barack Obama is scheduled to speak. Meantime, Bob is now an editor at a Chicago newspaper and before dawn on Election Day, he gets a phone call telling him one of his columnists has hacked his computer to publish an incendiary, offensive column. Bob gets fired for it. The former civil rights activist was already sick and tired of black people always complaining, never being satisfied. Now he's lost his job over black people's whining, and he's furious, ready to strangle Malcolm – if he can only find him. Then he gets an email. Janeka is back in town and she wants to see him.
Grant Park is a novel about racial disillusionment, friendship, and what I have taken to calling the “stupidification” of America.
BPM: Are any scenes from the book borrowed from your world or your experiences?
Oh, yes. Much of the frustration Malcolm experiences in dealing with white readers who will not engage on the subject of racial injustice is something I have experienced firsthand. And the one reader email that sends him over the edge is cobbled together from hundreds of similar emails I have received over the years. I identify with Malcolm's angst, though not with his chosen solution.
BPM: What are your goals as a writer? Do you set out to educate? Entertain? Inspire?
I think you write to entertain, first and foremost, to tell a story a reader will lose herself or himself in,. You try to create characters that will seem real to the reader and then put those characters into situations of physical or emotional danger. Secondarily, you hope that in entertaining people, you can also manage to say something of value, make some observation that will touch them or inspire them or cause them to see old things in new ways.
BPM: What are some of the benefits of being an author that makes it all worthwhile?
Writing a novel is a year, two years, or more of lonely work, staring at blank screens and not really knowing if what you're doing works or makes any kind of sense. So the best thing about being published is receiving feedback from readers. When somebody tells me they were hurt by something one of my characters did, or a situation a character found him or herself in made that reader cry, that is the highest validation and best compliment I can ever receive. It means the characters seemed real and the story works. Feedback is what makes that lonely year or two worthwhile.
BPM: What’s the most important quality a writer should have in your opinion?
Probably persistence. You have to believe in and hone your talent as a writer and cling to it, sometimes against all odds and common sense. You have to eat rejection for breakfast.
BPM: Ultimately, what do you want readers to gain from reading your book?
I want them to gain enjoyment and entertainment obviously. I'd love for them to think about some of the issues the book raises. If you or your readers would like to set up a Skype visit to discuss Grant Park or Freeman, go to my website and contact me there: http://leonardpittsjr.com. I'm available for blog tours as well.
BPM: How may our readers follow you online?
Books can be found at: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/c/leonard-pitts-jr.
Keep up with Leonard Pitts Jr. at his website: http://www.leonardpittsjr.com
Read Miami Herald column at : http://www.miamiherald.com/leonard_pitts
Like Leonard Pitts on FB: https://www.facebook.com/LeonardPittsJr
Follow on Twitter: Leonard Pitts Jr can be found at @LeonardPittsJr1
Pearl Page: Audio Postcard for Bookclubs
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Thank you for listening to this fantastic book preview! This audio-postcard presentation was created by Ella Curry of EDC Creations Creations Media Group. We offer the best in book publishing publicity! Visit the main EDC Creations website today to explore the many services we offer small business owners, event planners, authors and publishers at: http://www.edc-creations.com/publicity.htm We have several packages that will take your products to the top!
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