Philadelphia Fire: a novel by John Edgar Wideman
Anyone who grew up in Philadelphia in the 1970s and 1980s remembers the MOVE group. John Edgar Wideman’s novel, Philadelphia Fire, was inspired by the 1985 police bombing of the MOVE house in West Philadelphia that killed eleven people and razed an entire neighbourhood, destroying sixty houses. What surprises me is that no one outside of the Philadelphia area seems to even know about this, but it’s left an indelible mark on the city.
So what is Philadelphia Fire about? From the blurb: Cudjoe, a writer and exile who returns to his old neighborhood after spending a decade fleeing from his past, and his search for the lone survivor of the fire — a young boy who was seen running from the flames.
In case you’re wondering who is the little boy running from the flames, the character is based on Birdie Africa, who died in 2013. He was the lone child survivor of the bombing and spent years trying to build a new life for himself. He was only 41 when he died.
Another book that is definitely required reading is Kindred by Octave E. Butler. This is a brilliant take on time travel/speculative fiction with Dana, a modern-day black woman, finding herself time and time again being snatched from her home in California and transported back to the antebellum South to save the life of a white plantation owner’s son. Each time, she is stuck there longer and longer and more dangerous and Dana finds herself drawn to the slave quarters and wondering if she will ever be able to return to the present, or if her life will end before it’s even properly begun.
I love Octavia Butler’s novels. She was an amazing writer and her stories speak to the human experience, of the ways humans work against each other, and are as relevant today as when she first wrote them.
Kim McLarin‘s Meeting of the Waters is set in the tense months following the 1992 LA riots. What happens when Porter Stockman, a white journalist covering the trials of police officers who beat Rodney King, finds himself in danger in the midst of the riots and black journalist Lenora Page saves his life. Afterwards, he tries to find her, but she’s disappeared into thin air. Back in Philadelphia, he ends up finding Lenora right under his nose in the offices of the newspaper where he works. What starts as a wary friendship becomes a turbulent relationship, with Lenora constantly second-guessing Porter and Porter not understanding Lenora’s uncertainty and resenting that she is not always open with him or others about their relationship and that he is always on the defensive.
Just as relevant today as it was when it was first published in 2001.
Haven’t read any of these? Do yourself a favour and one-click ASAP.