Think Globally, Act Locally

 

Busboys and Poets - Hyattsville

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hyattsville Patch Video by Sarah Nemeth: http://hyattsville.patch.com/articles/video-authors-break-bread-at-busboys-in-hyattsville#video-7185738

Wall Mural in Community Room

At the new Busboys and Poets restaurant in the Arts District of Hyattsville, Maryland, in the large community room named for historian and activist Howard Zinn, five local Hyattsville authors spoke about their books, all of which help readers think of our global well-being.

Julia Duin

Julia Duin, who writes for the Economist and the Washington Post and was formerly religion editor for the Washington Times for 14 years, talked about her books Quitting Church: Why the Faithful are Fleeing and What to Do About It and Days of Fire and Glory: The Rise and Fall of a Charismatic Community.

David Levy

David Levy read from his fantasy novel Revolt of the Animals, in which the animals of the world fight to save the planet from destruction by humans.

 

 

William Loizeaux

William Loizeaux writes and teaches writing at Johns Hopkins University and has written nonfiction books: The Shooting of Rabbit Wells (Little Brown/Arcade) and Anna: A Daughter’s Life, a New York Times Notable Book of 1993. He read from his children’s fiction book, Clarence Cochran, A Human Boy, about a cockroach who changes into a tiny human boy whose cockroach family is threatened with extermination.

Andra Damron

Andra Damron spoke of her book Images of America Hyattsville about Hyattsville throughout its history—how and why it was born and thrived.

 

 

Richard Morris

I was last, speaking about my two novels—Cologne No. 10 For Men, a novel set in Vietnam, which Kirkus calls “A funny and serviceable satire about the gross rationalizations that propel war and peace”—and the other, Well Considered, a thriller that deals with racial justice, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

 My reading from Cologne No. 10 For Men was:

 Wilfred spent the day seeing ghosts—bloody sandbags, the stack of body bags, Louis King, the wounded woman, Newcombe, the holes in O’Shaunnessey’s head, the procession of litters, the dancer, performing in the light of Wilfred’s gun. Bodies were piling up all around him now, surreptitiously crawling up and dying. A human trash-dump. Bulldozers heaping them, until he was buried in them. And who would be next? Matfield? Welbourne? Rodriguez? Henry? Reckert? Who?

Words darted through the bodies like rats. Stewart reciting the law: “Thou shalt not kill.” O’Shaunnessey asking: “Who does?” believe in the war. Felicity begging: “Please!!! Don’t kill anyone.” Henry announcing: “I’m done with killing.” Can ordering: “Wilfed no kill Vietnamese.” Reckert censuring: “You let it take you over.” He thought of freedom and democracy and heard the machine-gun clatter of falling dominoes hitting each other, knocking the next to the tabletop. Then he remembered Robert Kennedy’s comment: “We’re killing innocent people because the communists are 12,000 miles away, and they might get 11,000 miles away.” How could that justify the killing?

That night in his hooch the clamor of voices grew higher, and the images of death lashed him relentlessly. He saw artillery rounds disintegrating the village like specks of black falling on cities of children in roaring, exploding storms of fire, pushed out of bomb bays in endless chains by rational men, packs of animals, warring tribes. The Vietnamese woman stared at him. Henry stood by with sullen force while Reckert chided, Stewart preached, and Felicity and Can begged for mercy. Then the leaking face of O’Shaunnessey appeared and grew larger and larger, filling his screen. The holes became hydrants, and his blood gushed out of them with terrible force, flooding the earth, gathering around Wilfred’s feet, bubbling and boiling, rising to his knees, his waist, his chest, his—

“Noooo!” he screamed, and he sat up sweating, shaking, and panting. He turned and reached, fumbled blindly in his pack, pulled out his cologne, tore back the netting, slithered out of the poncho tent, leaped up, ran away, and sent the bottle hurtling into the sky over the camp.  — Cologne No. 10 For Men.

I assured the audience that, in contrast to this passage, much of the book is light and entertaining. Richard Peabody, the editor of Gargoyle Magazine says, “I love the way Wilfred recycles the bodies. That’s fabulous stuff with a direct line to Heller’s Catch-22 and perfectly captures the insanity of the Vietnam War.”

On Well Considered, I explained that the novel is about a man who looks into the 1907 mob murder of his great-grandfather on a Maryland tobacco plantation, and thematically is about justice and forgiveness, racial reconciliation, and people of different races getting to know each other. But it is a thriller. I read them a portion:

Shocked by cold and energized by fear, he pumped his legs. Flailing his arms, gasping for air, he stared blindly into total darkness.

Shit! he thought. How long can I keep this up? If I don’t think of something, I’ll drown down here. And it won’t be long.

Continuing to tread water, he reached out with one hand underwater and touched something hard, rough, rounded, irregular, slippery, in and out.

Stones, he thought, like field stones.

His head slipped under and he came up gasping and coughing. Then he reached again for the stones and let his hand follow their contours.

A curved wall—with a small circumference. It’s a well. I’m in a damned well. And it must have a cover on it because there isn’t any light.

The initial cold shock passed, and his body began to grow numb. He remained breathless. He tried to climb the wall by reaching up and grabbing at rocks with his strong fingers while pushing up with the toes of his running shoes. But the indentations between the stones were slimy and too small for his fingers to take hold. He slipped off and submerged again. Again and again he made the attempt on other parts of the wall—pushing with his toes under water and jumping up and grabbing at a piece of rock with his fingers, only to achieve the same result. He felt like a rat—frantically swimming from side to side, leaping upward and falling back.

Fatigue and claustrophobia surged through him, and his hands thrust against the wall in front of him. He tried desperately to push it away while his back pressed against immovable stone. Then he thrust upward with the heels of his shoes, only to slip down once more under the water. Entombed in a f—ing well, he thought.”

The well in Well Considered. It’s a metaphor representing the past we’re all trying to escape.

Robert Fleming of the African American Literary Book Club says, “Well Considered is a profoundly memorable and affecting novel of an African American man trying to come to grips with the hate-filled past and the poisonous divisive present.” He adds, “Some critics have said white authors cannot capture the soul and passion of African American characters, but that is not the case with Richard Morris’s aptly titled novel.”

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