The Novel 'Land of the Black Squirrels' Marks The Return Of The Jazz Poet To African American Literature
"... About 26 years ago, I was in New York playing a gig at Nel's on 14thStreet. Late night, the 5 Train would stop running and you would have to catch a shuttle from 180thStreet, which ran really infrequently, so I decided to catch the 4 Train uptown to Gun Hill Road and walked down to the corner of Bainbridge and Gun Hill to catch the BX 28 (which used to be the BX 15). So here it was, about 3:00 in the morning and I'm standing across the street from Montefiore Hospital, watching a Black squirrel dart in and out of the sparse shrubs next to the building, when suddenly, an old man popped out from behind the parking garage, just behind the bus shelter where I was standing. The man was about 5'5", wearing slacks, a collared shirt, fall coat and a Totes hat. In his left hand, he carried two shopping bags stuffed with collard greens. There was something in the way he walked... a rather slew-footed stride, that told me he was from the islands...."
- Excerpt from LAND of the BLACK SQUIRRELS: A Bronx Boheme Novel by Mwalim (2020, Thirty-three Pages)
In modern literary offerings from African American writers, the voice of the poet has been all but choked out of the novel. The rise in popularity of Urban Lit in the late 1990's somehow signaled to the publishing industry was that it would become the new, main vehicle of Black writers, with a tiny handful cracking the so-called 'mainstream' or 'literary fiction' arena. When we talk about those with an experimental approach, the list is even thinner.
Thus enters the work of Mwalim, a long-time fixture on the music, spoken-word and Black theater scene of the east coast. A storyteller who's writing is rooted in the oral tradition, his soon-to-be released novel, LAND of the BLACK SQUIRRELS which is book one of the Bronx Boheme series. Billed as "An Epic Hip-Hop Jazz Folk-tale" and written in a fluidly conversational style, it is quite clear that Mwalim -a tenured professor of English, Communications and Black Studies at UMass Dartmouth- is a bit of a literary throwback to the African American "Jazz Poetry" tradition, while very much introducing his unique voice and style to the canon.
The "Jazz Poet" takes their roots back to the Harlem Renaissance, particularly Langston Hughes, who's poetic phrasing and imagery was compared to bebop jazz, and subsequently co-opted (appropriated) by the Columbia University born Beatnik movement. Critics of the time noted that the jazz poetic phrasing style of writers like Hughes, Ralph Ellison, Gwendolyn Brooks, Thomas Dumas, and John Oliver Killen influenced and informed the writings of Allen Ginsburg, Jack Kerouac, and William S. Burroughs, as well as one Beat who was the 'favored negro' of the Beat's inner circle who would eventually denounce white people (except Ginsburg) and changed his name to Amiri Baraka.
In LAND of the BLACK SQUIRRELS, Mwalim introduces us to the Northeast Bronx, explaining that it was once called Eastchester and was part of Westchester; and that Black Squirrels appeared and soon replaced the gray squirrels as the main squirrel of The Bronx. From there, like the melodic flow of a tenor sax solo we are transported to 1969 and meet a man named Oba who is opening an Arts academy in his neighborhood called "The Valley". From there we are introduced to his extended family of characters and the world of music in which they dwell.
Published by Plymouth, MA - based start-up, Thirty-three Pages, and distributed by Ingram, LAND of the BLACK SQUIRRELS is due for release on February 4, 2020. For more information, visit http://www.thirty-threepages.com
BOOK: Land of the Black Squirrels: A Bronx Boheme Novel
PUBLISHER: Thirty-three Pages
FORMAT: Paperback and Ebook
ISBN: (Ebook)9780966242836 (Paperback) 9780966242829
RELEASE DATE: Feb 4, 2020
For more information about Mwalim, visit http://daphunkeeprofessor.com