SAN FRANCISCO, CA (September 11, 2020) — McSweeney’s is proud to announce a new series of elegantly-designed and powerfully-voiced books. Of the Diaspora begins in February 2021 with the re-release of Wesley Brown’s Tragic Magic, a novel edited by Toni Morrison during her time at Random House and originally released in 1978, during a newspaper strike that year that effectively eliminated arts and culture coverage for some weeks. Brown’s book exemplifies the series’ ethos — to illuminate 20th-century Black voices that we know will resonate deeply and differently in the contemporary world.
Each book will be designed by McSweeney’s award-winning art director Sunra Thompson. The first three books, all to be released in 2021, feature African-American voices: Tragic Magic by Wesley Brown, Praisesong for the Widow by Paule Marshall, and Captioning the Archives, a conversation in text and photographs between Aisha Sabatini Sloan and Lester Sloan. Future plans for the series include works by Afro-Caribbean and Afro-Brazilian voices. Publicity for the series will be managed by Jack Jones Literary Arts, Kima Jones, and Frank Johnson.
Conceived by Erica Vital-Lazare, a professor of creative writing at the College of Southern Nevada, and former editor-in-chief of the Red Rock Review, Of the Diaspora brings previously-published fiction and other work overlooked at its original publication to a contemporary audience. The series is, in her words, “an exploration of Black voices who in writing Black life attempt to speak into the selves that survived — re-planed, reconstituted, re-engineered selves — who are sometimes riotously, sometimes raucously, sometimes mournfully aware of the many ways what is cannot be fully re-assembled to resemble what was.”
“The Of the Diaspora series embodies McSweeney’s deep commitment to inclusivity, untold stories, and unheralded voices,” said Amanda Uhle, publisher of McSweeney’s. “Under Erica’s leadership, this idea has been brought to radiant life and is a reflection of how our communities inform our book publishing program. Our dear friend Kevin Moffett at Claremont McKenna College resurfaced Tragic Magic and brought it to us. Immeasurable support then came from Concord Free Press and its editor-in-chief Stona Fitch, another admirer of Wesley’s. Erica believed in and doggedly pursued the rights for Paule Marshall’s novel from the beginning, citing it as a guiding light in her own practice. And I met Aisha through my youth writing center connections, then we spent time in her father’s Detroit house, exploring his archive of photos originally taken for Newsweek in the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s. Erica has pulled these disparate threads to create something whole and new—an essential and eye-opening body of work that we are so excited to share with our readers next year.”
Kima Jones, founder of Jack Jones Literary Arts, said, “A collaboration with McSweeney’s made sense to us for so many reasons: they are a west coast, woman-led independent publishing house with a longstanding commitment to Black and brown writers. Introducing a new generation of readers to the brilliance of Paule Marshall and Wesley Brown was reason enough to join forces, but we were overjoyed to learn that we’d be working with Aisha Sabatini Sloan again. Her essay collection, Dreaming of Ramadi in Detroit, remains one of my favorite collections of the last decade, and I am thrilled to help bring Captioning the Archives to the world.”
Vitale-Lazare said, “For some this series will be an introduction to epigenetic memories of lives lost, wars waged, and family found. For others, it will be a coming home to auspicious endings of held hands, death beds, bridal reunions, and fat meat in the pan. We hope to have gathered a cross-section of stories that take us back and slingshot us forward, so that we meet ourselves as mothers and fathers, lovers and leavers, historians and schemers, pilots and pirates, violinists and conduits of violence, astronomers and crash survivors eternally, and alternately, revisiting and loosing ourselves from the vast ship where so many of our bodies were held.”
With a new foreword by Kiese Laymon
Tragic Magic is the semi-autobiographical story of an African-American man who is incarcerated for being a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War. The protagonist’s experiences behind bars and on the Manhattan streets after his release are beautiful, startling, and timely. James Baldwin called Brown, a one-time member of the Black Panther Party, “one hell of a writer.”
Praisesong for the Widow
With a new foreword by Edwidge Danticat
Paule Marshall’s novel of a Harlem widow claiming new life, Praisesong for the Widow was originally published in 1983 and was a recipient of the Before Columbus Foundation American Book Award. Anne Tyler called the book “astonishingly moving” in the New York Times Book Review.
Captioning the Archives
Text by Aisha Sabatini Sloan
Photos by Lester Sloan
Lester Sloan began his photography career as cameraman for the CBS affiliate in Detroit, then worked as a staff photographer in Los Angeles for Newsweek magazine for twenty-five years. His daughter, noted essayist Aisha Sabatini Sloan, writes about race and current events, often coupled with analysis of art, film, and pop culture. In this father-daughter collaboration, Lester opened his archive of street photography, portraits, and news photos, and Aisha interviewed him, creating rich, probing, dialogue-based captions for more than one hundred photographs. Lester’s images encompass celebrity portraits, key news events like Pope John Paul’s visit to Mexico, Black cultural life in Europe, and, with astonishing emotion, the everyday lives of Black folk in Los Angeles and Detroit.