Freeman by Leonard Pitts Jr.


 


Freeman is a love story--sweeping, generous, brutal, compassionate, patient--about the feelings people were determined to honor, despite the enormous constraints of the times. It is this aspect of the book that should ensure it a strong, vocal, core audience of African-American women, who will help propel its likely critical acclaim to a wider audience. At the same time, this book addresses several themes that are still hotly debated today, some 145 years after the official end of the Civil War.

Freeman, the new novel by Leonard Pitts, Jr., takes place in the first few months following the Confederate surrender and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Upon learning of Lee's surrender,  Sam--a runaway slave who once worked for the Union Army--decides to leave his safe haven in Philadelphia and set out on foot to return to the war-torn South. What compels him on this almost-suicidal course is the desire to find his wife, the mother of his only child, whom he and their son left behind 15 years earlier on the Mississippi farm to which they all  "belonged."

At the same time, Sam's wife, Tilda, is being forced to walk at gunpoint with her owner and two of his other slaves from the charred remains of his Mississippi farm into Arkansas, in search of an undefined place that would still respect his entitlements as slave owner and Confederate officer.

The book's third main character, Prudence, is a fearless, headstrong white woman of means who leaves her Boston home for Buford, Mississippi, to start a school for the former bondsmen, and thus honor her father’s dying wish.

Like Cold Mountain, Freeman illuminates the times and places it describes from a fresh perspective, with stunning results.  It has the potential to become a classic addition to the literature dealing with this period.  Few other novels so powerfully capture the pathos and possibility of the era particularly as it reflects the ordeal of the black slaves grappling with the promise--and the terror--of their new status as free men and women.


Freeman by Leonard Pitts Jr.
Purchase Freeman from Amazon
Paperback 432 pages
ISBN-10:  1932841644
ISBN-13:  978-1932841640


 

 




SNEAK PEEK: Freeman by Leonard Pitts, Jr.


Freeman is a love story--sweeping, generous, brutal, compassionate, patient--about the feelings people were determined to honor, despite the enormous constraints of the times. It is this aspect of the book that should ensure it a strong, vocal, core audience of African-American women, who will help propel its likely critical acclaim to a wider audience. At the same time, this book addresses several themes that are still hotly debated today, some 145 years after the official end of the Civil War.

Setting the Scene for Freeman
Freeman is about a former slave named Sam who, at the very end of the Civil War, embarks on foot from Philadelphia to Mississippi in search of Tilda, the wife he has not seen in 15 years.   He doesn't know if she is still in Mississippi, he doesn't know if she still alive, he doesn't know if she has another man, he doesn't know if she wants to see him again; when they parted, there was a tragedy between them and she blamed him for it and hated him for it.    In this  scene Sam, over a campfire, explaining to his friend and travel partner Ben what happened after he was captured and his son killed on an escape attempt Tilda told him not to try.


SNEAK PEEK: Freeman by Leonard Pitts, Jr.


She shrieked at him, "Where is Luke? What happened to Luke?" Then the slave catchers whipped him, and...


“When they were done, they threw me in the pest house to heal up. They would not let anyone in there except an old blind woman, Mammy Sue. She tended my cuts as best she could. Once, I asked her how Tilda was doing. ‘Not good,’ she said. I said, ‘Would you tell Tilda something for me? Tell her I’m sorry.’”

Sam’s laugh was bitter as unripe fruit. “Are there any two words in the English language more useless than those?” he asked. “‘Sorrow makes us all children again.’ Ralph Waldo Emerson said that.”

“What she say?” asked Ben.

“I asked Mammy Sue the next day when she came in to apply the poultice to my back. She told me Tilda said nothing, not a word. She said it was as if she had spoken to the tree. As I said, the word is useless.”

‘Yeah, but wasn’t too much else you could say,” said Ben.

Sam looked at him. “As soon as I was feeling better, Mistress sold me. One day, she walked into the pest house; it was the first time I had seen her since they brought me back. She faced me with me a sorrowful countenance as if to express to me how profoundly I had disappointed her. She said, ‘Perseus, I never would have thought it of you.’

“What you say?”

“I said nothing. What am I supposed to say to that? Then this white man entered behind her. He looked me up and down as though appraising a horse. He said to her, ‘Yes, he’ll do just fine.’ That was when I realized I was being sold.

“An hour later, I left there, tied in the back of his wagon. It rolled past the fields where the slaves were working, chopping cotton. Some of them stopped to look as I went by. Tilda never lifted her head, never even looked my way. I wanted to cry out to her, but it would have been useless, and besides, what could I say? I saw them telling her I was leaving, I watched them point toward me. She never stopped what she was doing.”

“Angry,” said Ben.

Sam nodded. “She was furious. She had a right to be.”

“So why you going back?”

Sam pondered this a moment. Then he said, “I do not rightly know. I suppose I just feel there must be something more I should say, some word I can find that will be more meaningful than ‘sorry.’”

He pulled out his watch. It was getting late. “I am going to turn in,” he said. He found a likely spot and lay down on the thin spring grass, clasping his hands behind his head as a pillow. Ben did the same and after a moment, Sam heard the other man’s breathing grow steady and deep. Only then did he allow himself to weep. The tears fell silently, his body shaking. He covered his mouth with his hand, lest any sound escape.

Regret ate him like cancer. It gnawed at the very gut of him.

His son, his only child, quick and lively boy who had looked like him and walked like him, even stood like him…and his Tilda, who had adored him and nurtured him, who had given shape and meaning to his days…why hadn’t that been enough? Wasn’t it more than many men had? Wasn’t it more than he even had a right to hope for? Why, then, had he risked it and ruined it? Why did he need all that, and freedom, too?

God, he had loved her.

Not just because she was beautiful, not just because her thighs were round and strong and her hair thick and long. No, he had loved her laughter. He had loved the quiet moment lying together on a mattress of corn shucks after a hard day, not speaking and not needing to. He had loved holding her hand and watching the rain from the front door of their cabin. He had loved watching her nurse their son, watching the boy tug greedily at her nipple while she gazed down on him with all the tenderness in the world. He had loved reading a book and handing it to her saying, ‘You should read this,’ and then talking about it with her afterward. He had loved her.

He still did.

The knowledge of it brought tears rushing in fresh sheets of pain down his cheek. He wept in silence.

And it began to rain.


(Continues...)

© 2011 Leonard Pitts Jr.   Excerpted by permission of the publisher, Agate Publishing. All rights reserved.   No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.   Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.


Freeman by Leonard Pitts Jr.
Purchase Freeman from Amazon
Paperback 432 pages
ISBN-10:  1932841644
ISBN-13:  978-1932841640

 

 




Intimate Conversation with Leonard Pitts Jr.

 

Leonard Pitts, Jr. writes a newspaper column that is syndicated nationally in 250 newspapers. In 2004, he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for commentary and has won numerous other honors from such organizations as the Society of Professional Journalists and the National Association of Black Journalists. He is the author of "Becoming Dad," a book about black men and fatherhood and also of the critically-acclaimed 2009 novel, "Before I Forget." Pitts lives in suburban Washington , DC, with his wife and family.

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: Introduce us to your book, FREEMAN and the main characters, Tilda and Sam Freeman. What message does his book share with the readers?
I envisioned Freeman as a love letter to African American women. That does not mean the book will not be accessible to other readers or that I don't want other readers to enjoy it. But I conceived the story as a romance that would speak most directly to my sisters who, let's face it, are often overlooked, left out, and flat out invisible in this culture.

Freeman is about a former slave named Sam who, at the very end of the Civil War, embarks on foot from Philadelphia to Mississippi in search of Tilda, the wife he has not seen in 15 years. He doesn't know if she is still in Mississippi, he doesn't know if she still alive, he doesn't know if she has another man, he doesn't know if she wants to see him again; when they parted, there was a tragedy between them and she blamed him for it and hated him for it.

Along the journey, Sam meets Prudence, a beautiful white abolitionist who has gone to Mississippi to open a school for the freed slaves. He develops feelings for her and she for him and the question becomes: does he continue his impossible search for Tilda, who he may never find and who may not even love him anymore, or does he stay with Prudence? And then... Well, I've said enough.

BPM: Is this the book you intended on writing or did it take on a life of its own as you were writing? How do you stay focused?
It is pretty close to what I intended it to be when I started out, but you always have to leave room for things to surprise you and there were a few things that happened here that I did not expect. As to focus: you write a novel in order to tell a story you yourself want to read. If I didn't finish, I would never get to enjoy this story as a reader. That has a way of keeping you focused.

BPM: Which character or topic in the book can you identify with the most? Why?
I can identify most with Sam, I think. He is a romantic, which I am, but he is also a highly educated black man who uses his education and his facility with words sometimes as a shield against people who presume to judge him as less because of his color. I can relate to that.

While this book takes place in the slavery years,  this book is not about slavery. It's about relationships, freedom and claiming ones own identity in this world. I can relate to that too.

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.


READ MORE AT BLACK PEARLS, HERE.  ]




 


 


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