What I'm writing ...
Life After Death ...
... is the story of a black family coming of age in Pittsburgh, PA. It's a story of three siblings who discover among their father's papers, after his suicide, evidence that he has been involved in a murder as well as election fraud. It's a murder mystery about love and loss. And it's about that thing that we call race, that we think of as so concrete, but which turns out to be extremely fluid.
Life After Death: The Back Story
I think the first writer that I’ve encountered to demonstrate the nuance of character that populated the neighborhood where I grew
up was August Wilson. So much so that I recognized parts of characters in Wilson’s plays from my old neighborhood.
That’s how Life After Death got its start. The more I saw of Wilson’s plays the more his work pushed me to think about how there were so many other stories in that neighborhood that needed to be told. Some of those stories? Were not so much about people victimized by racism and segregation. Rather they were stories about how people adapted and often triumphed over those obstacles.
Thus was born Ben Longworth, my main character. He’s a guy that looks an awful
Source: triblive archives
lot like several of my uncles growing up. He lives by wit and guile, muscle and sweat; he knows an opportunity when he sees one and he isn't afraid to go after it. He’s the kind of guy you never want to see across a poker table.
Surrounding Ben are many other characters that call out the quirky personalities and curiosities of the people who populated my growing up. There is the failed musician, Jack Allen, who finally gives up to suicide (who, frankly, looks a lot like my father); a preacher, Dave Parsons, who once very active in the civil rights movement, carries the weight of a terrible secret for twenty years; and a cop, Mo Gainey, who fulfills our most essential stereotype of what we believe cops to be, but for reasons that we would have never
Together they form a web of relationships upon which they all depend, draw strength from, and from which they derive large parts of their identities. But the relationships themselves? Those relationships have a dynamic, almost a life, all their own. Those relationships, for example, posed what I think is an interesting question to this day: when something is done for you or on your behalf, something that you never asked for, but nevertheless benefit from, just what is your obligation to the doer? What are inter-generational obligations and who gets to decide who owes who, what?
So much like Wilson before me, my characters have some basis in reality. There are people some of whom have walked through life with me, who might recognize many of my characters without much prompting. And I believe the people I draw on, who they were and how they chose to live their lives, in the long shadow cast by institutional racism deserve to be illuminated. They are not completely heroic, but there are most certainly heroes. They are not by any means wholly courageous, but there is an abundance of courage to be found within every one of them.
They are people; they are my people.
Just one more tile in the mosaic that is Black and American.