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Luvon Roberson @LuvonRwriter

Luvon Roberson @LuvonRwriter

Mississippi Noir - Book Review

BOOKish BLOG: Mississippi Noir by Luvon Roberson 

“Mississippi boasts a notably corrupt state government and the highest rate of poverty in the country. No wonder, then, that area writers have found some pretty nasty stories to tell, several of which are included here: stories about a girl who murders her mother’s live-in boyfriend; a drug dealer who goes to extreme lengths to repay his source; a jilted lover who kills her ex-lover’s wife; college students who are having their fingers removed. And, of course, stories about sex and rage and white trash..” —Booklist

This Mississippi-born reviewer can add to the long list of “noir” features: It’s an acquired taste. And, MISSISSIPPI NOIR, edited by Tom Franklin, shows me noir may just be something I’ll need to develop a taste for. So if like me you’re a neophyte to this genre, you’ll be happy to find that Franklin has organized the collection of 16 short stories into four categories: Conquest & Revenge; Wayward Youth; Bloodlines; and Skipping Town. I think of this organizing as a guide, even an organizing principle: As a kind of taxonomic classification system, like classifying species of birds. Keep in mind that birds are the only living dinosaurs. An extinction event 66 million years ago killed off 75% of plants and all the dinosaurs, except the birds. Survival of the fittest, indeed. That killer-instinct to survive is how I came to recommend four stories for your initiation into noir.

Losing Her Religion, introduces us to Jada Wallace an African-American woman having a hot affair with a white lover and fellow teacher Derek. This is noir: Derek is married, of course; he and his wife are expecting a baby, and Jada is passionately fixated on having Derek for her own even though it’s obvious that he’s only in it for the excitement of illicit sex. Not used to begging a man for attention, Jada begs Derek to be hers. She is his faithful, fervent devotee. Her feelings for Derek are fueled like those of the true believers in a religious cult: No evidence is required as a basis for absolute devotion -- only faith is required. Faith in how right the believer to believe beyond reason or common sense or the advice of others. Author RaShell R. Smith-Spears tells us this about Jada:

“She would make her pilgrimage; she had made it every Sunday for the past month, and would continue to do so until she had reached the nirvana she sought. The journey itself was a sanctifying ritual, working her into a passionate fervor….. Already she felt sacred.” (p.53)

Did I mention that Smith-Spear’s story about Jada is in the Conquest & Revenge category? It’s not giving anything away to say that things don’t end well.     

Jaime Paige’s Boy and Girl Games Like Coupling is about a deadly game that the narrator plays and terrorizes Glen, his girlfriend. In only four brief pages this author somehow throws us in a place of fear and tension – never once revealing the narrator’s name or giving an explanation for anything he says or does. Masterful storytelling that fits perfectly in the Wayward Youth classification. And, even if you feel like running like a bat out of hell, you’d only find yourself in the company of the narrator and Glen, the girlfriend.

Megan Abbott is an acclaimed seasoned noir writer, who serves up Oxford Girl in the collection, also among the Wayward Youth stories. Set within real-world Lyon College and played against the lyrics of a 19th-century English ballad, this story reveals the ugly realities lurking just below the surface shine of youth-in-college life, of the all-American bonhomie of college fraternity and sorority life once the pink glitter and the boozing bravado are ripped away. Still, I was unprepared. I’m guessing you, too, will gasp.

Mississippi-born that I am, there is no way I’d miss God’s Gonna Trouble the Water, Dominiqua Dickey’s brimming, emotionally-packed, entry into the complicated, always-dangerous relations between White people and Black people in small-town Mississippi. Elnora. Cissy. Ed. Graham Lee. Sal. Rayford Drew. She deftly populates the story with a cast of characters, all the while never falling into cardboard or stereotypical characterizations. You will certainly recognize these characters, but I bet you won’t be able to predict their ways of being; their decisions. Twisting and turning plotline in its creation of a Mississippi world in a petri dish, author Dickey keeps us guessing up to that last moment when you see why her contribution is classified as Bloodlines.

John M. Floyd’s, Pit Stop, is a story within a story, with State Highway 25 as much a character as Anna Langley McDowell, Keller, Woody Prestridge, Jack, the nun Sister Mary Patrick/Hippie Girl Mary, and Aunt Penny. Floyd’s storytelling is sharply visual, and we’re on that highway and then off on that road with Anna. Somehow, we’re as much a passenger seated behind the locked doors of the car as Anna’s daughter and son or as Anna and Sister Mary. The story is classified in Skipping Town. This is noirish storytelling, so you’re debating with yourself and you’re screaming at Anna and you don’t want a turn off that highway.

MISSISSIPPI NOIR is edited by Tom Franklin and published by Akashic Books (2016).

Final Take-Away

In MISSISSIPPI NOIR, each writer names the story’s setting, and these Mississippi place names anchor me. I need that anchoring because each of the stories takes me to a place that is fantastical, that is beyond ordinary ways of being and thinking, beyond what is considered reasonable or expected in this thing called life. I was so taken by the place names that I looked them up – they are real! These are actual, real geographical places in Mississippi, in this world. I’m glad I did the research. I needed to know something I could depend on. Noir is just outside that kind of knowing.


Mississippi Noir group photo supplied byLuvon Roberson

Front row: Mississippi Noir editor, Tom Franklin and Square Books General Manager, Lyn Roberts. Second row, left to right: Megan Abbott, Chris Offutt, Ace Atkins, William Boyle, John M. Floyd, Lee Durkee, and Michael Farris Smith. Third row, left to right: Dominiqua Dickey, Robert Busby, Michael Kardos, Andrew Paul, and Jack Pendarvis. Photo by Ivo Kamps. From:

  • Published in Authors

Author Sighting: Nina Crews: Seeing Into Tomorrow

BOOK PARTY LAUNCH at City College Center for the Arts for Seeing into Tomorrow: Haiku by Richard Wright, by Nina Crews

Celebrated author, Richard Wright, wrote 4,000+ haiku? Yes. And, what's more: He wrote them in the final 18 months of his life! Turns out, the man who is among the world's most celebrated 20th-century writers, the man we know for BLACK BOY and NATIVE SON, was also a poet. And, it took a children's book illustrator and writer -- Nina Crews -- to introduce me to Wright, the poet, in her latest book SEEING INTO TOMORROW: HAIKU BY RICHARD WRIGHT

As you know, I've always believed that children's books are books for adults, as well. Last month, I witnessed the joy of many people, exploring SEEING INTO TOMORROW and Richard Wright's haiku at the book party launch, held at City College Center for the Arts, in Aaron Davis Hall. Gregory Shanck, who heads CCCA and hosted the book launch, agrees. He has stated that, “It's not just a children's book. It can be enjoyed by the entire family.”

Nina Crews Nina looks on as children create collages 600x450 IMG 9133 Photo Credit Luvon RobersonChildren enjoying making collages at the book launch event at City College for Seeing Into Tomorrow by Nina Crews. Photo Credit: Luvon Roberson

Indeed, at a fun-filled event, children, adults, and families created haiku and collages – working at tables stocked with tools to experiment with and to create. Young children, their parents, and other caregivers danced together, learning the rhythms and history of African drumming. And, Nina Crews read her book, whose memorable photo-collage illustrations were projected on a large screen. Each page seems to break out from the book, as if leaping into reality featuring the images of 12 young black and brown boys in nature and in-conversation, or so it seemed, with 12 haiku written by Richard Wright. My favorite:

“A spring sky so clear
That you feel you are seeing
Into tomorrow”

With SEEING INTO TOMORROW, her 14th book, Nina Crews has created a gorgeous, powerful, affirming book for all of us. My only regret? That my son is no longer a little boy who can see his image in a book that celebrates Richard Wright and haiku. Or, in reality, a book that celebrates creation, the act of creation in ordinary realities of life, which we can see every day in nature, in our world, all around us. Helping us, perhaps, to see little brown and black boys in our world, too.


 When my son was a child, he loved books about transportation. FREIGHT TRAIN, by Donald Crews, was a favorite. I was able to meet award-winning children's book author and illustrator Donald Crews at the book party launch. He is Nina Crews's father. Her mother, Ann Jonas, also was a children’s book illustrator and writer. For more on FREIGHT TRAIN, visit Amazon for more details.
 Check out Amazon for more details about SEEING INTO TOMORROW
 Of the 4,000+ haiku Wright wrote, 817 are published in HAIKU: THIS OTHER WORLD (1998).

AUTHOR SIGHTING: Hartford J. Hough, Author of The Fur Beneath My Wings

A book signing in Brooklyn with Hartford J. Hough for his book, The Fur Beneath My Wings: Our Relationship With Animals & The Valuable Lessons They Teach Us

Hartford J. Hough, an award-winning chef, baker, and cake designer based in California, makes it clear in his inspirational debut book, titled The Fur Beneath My Wings, that the community of his faith tradition, family, and friends are the foundation of his life journey. Indeed, he chose to come home to Brooklyn to host the New York City launch of his book at an event held last month at the Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church in the Fort Greene section of the borough.

Hough’s family members and many friends from elementary school, Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School, and Howard University packed the room, in a large show of support. Indeed, it was more like a family reunion than any book signing event I’ve attended. Several individuals, who also contributed their stories about their pets, eagerly pointed me to one of the 23 chapters of the 156-page book that show how animals can teach us humans valuable lessons about how to live. Each chapter concludes with a “Reflective Thought,” written by Hough.

Hartford J. Hough author The Fur Beneath My Wings and woman who purchased 10 copies at 3.17.18 book signing in Brooklyn 700x525 2 photo credit Luvon RobersonGloria Green, a book lover and supporter of author Hartford J. Hough, purchased 10 books of “Fur Beneath My Wings” for her pet lover friends.

Hough dedicates the book to Guffington and Mr. Belvedere, two cats he cared for, the latter a tabby and rescue animal with health problems. Both cats died in 2011.

From the first chapter on “Why Worry?” to other chapters on “Patience,” “Learning to Say Goodbye,” “The Power of Knowing,” “The Pathway That Finds Love,” and to the final chapter on “We Have to Get Along,” Hough and the seven contributors to his book guide us to see the unique and powerful bond that humans and animals can create. Each chapter begins with an inspirational quote and then shares a first-person story about how the individual developed a relationship with his or her pet. As each story unfolds we come to see how the relationship with a pet helps that person learn to navigate life’s joys and its many challenges.

At the book launch event, Hough shared his own story and relationship with Ginger, his Maltese Terrier. First, he lets us know that Ginger is 6-years-old and although tiny in size “is bodacious, something out of South Central, ‘Boyz N the Hood.’ Ginger can step to a pit bull with her ‘try me’ attitude.” Then, Hough tells us a memorable story about his frightening, potentially life-threatening experience and Ginger’s role:

“I had just finished walking Ginger, who I’d tried to hurry along, but who’d kept resisting my rushing. That was when I felt a pain on the right side, along my arm. Then, I just fell. I fell on my neighbor’s porch. Ginger was in-tune with her owner; that’s how I ultimately got the lesson I needed. I know that my stroke was caused by stress. The constant stress of my job. So, we have to learn how to read animals and their body language. Ginger was saying to me, ‘Slow down, my human friend.’ She wasn’t being obstinate. She was teaching me a lesson: Slow down and smell the roses.”

In the book’s final chapter, Hough tells us another story about how Ginger helps him control his feelings of frustration and increasing ire in the face of repeated security checks he was forced to withstand at the hands of TSA agents at JFK Airport. Readers will find the story a beautiful window into how Hough’s relationship with Ginger, whom he calls “the smallest of creatures,” plays a major role in his life.

Only after reading the book did I learn that Ginger is Hough’s registered Emotional Support Animal (ESA). And, only in hearing Hough’s stories that he shared at the book event and that he and his contributing storytellers share in The Fur Beneath My Wings did it occur to me that maybe every one of us humans needs an ESA. I, for one, am now a believer.

About Hartford J. Hough

A proud member of the Humane Society and the ASPCA, Hartford Hough is also a member of International Association of Culinary Professionals. He has been baking over thirty years -- for clients that include Sotheby's International Realty, Morgan Stanley, Universal Studios, and RealD Entertainment. He is as passionate about the care of animals as he is about baking and the culinary arts. Hough supports organizations and other resources responsible for finding "forever" homes for lost, abandoned and displaced animals. He is an advocate who is determined to raise awareness for animal welfare, to end animal cruelty, and to help ensure animal foster care.

For more about Hartford J. Hough and The Fur Beneath My Wings, visit:


SEA CREATURES FROM THE SKY, by Ricardo Cortes, New York Times #1 best-selling illustrator, isn't just another children's book. The story begins with a shark posing an existential question and it challenges readers of all ages to honor the voices of others and their lived experiences.

Yet, despite its cerebral themes, SCFTS is distinctly a children's book. The cadence of its rhyming and its luminous illustrations of ocean depths, as well as an expansive sky-to-universe stretching palette, will render a child's wonderment for learning about a world that is brand-new.

For parents and other adults, Cortes, the author, and illustrator of SCFTS, has created a book that is likely to spark new ways of knowing and seeing such wonder.

And, while the shark storyteller's "I " may not always be reliable, the shark "eye" helps us to see beyond, perhaps to a far greater truth. Cortes merely wants us to suspend logic and simply delight in the playfulness of words.

Published by Akashic Books
Publication date: 4.3.2018
Children's picture book/fiction (pre-school - Grade 2)
SEA CREATURES FROM THE SKY is available for purchase on Amazon

  • Published in Authors
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