Paul Grondahl, the director of the NYS Writers Institute at the University at Albany, brings together two poignant and timely picks for this week's Capital Region Reads.
'Dear Martin,' by Nic Stone
In her debut novel, young adult author Nic Stone traverses the fraught terrain of race relations with an authentic voice that captures the vernacular and inner lives of African-American teenagers. She packs outsize passion, purpose and point of view into this slim volume that examines the Black Lives Matter movement while probing the non-violence espoused by civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. Stone’s story focuses on the struggles of 17-year- old Justyce McAllister, the book’s narrator, who is caught between cultures as an academically gifted black high school senior attending the prestigious and predominantly white Braselton Prep on a scholarship.
McAllister wavers between the alluring thug life in his Atlanta neighborhood and the bright promise of college and a career when his friend Manny is shot and killed by an off-duty white police officer after an argument over the volume of rap music in the teens’ car. The shooting sets off protests and retaliations as the narrator seeks solace through confessional letters to Martin.
'The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between,' by Hisham Matar
This elegiac memoir is a profound meditation on the meaning of despair and hope as the author undertakes a heartbreaking search for his father, Jaballa Matar, an outspoken opponent of Moammar Qaddafi’s regime in Libya. The author, who was raised in Tripoli and Cairo, was a 19-year-old university student in England when his father was kidnapped and incarcerated as a political prisoner.
Two decades later, after the Qaddafi regime fell, Matar returned to his broken homeland with his mother and wife and began an emotional quest to find any trace of his father. Hisham Matar writes with a controlled rage as he tries to make sense of a ruthless dictator -- a study in the power of humanity.“The Return” won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize in biography and Matar is the author of the highly acclaimed novels “In the Country of Men” and “Anatomy of a Disappearance.”
Note: Matar will appear Nov. 30 and Stone on Dec. 7 at the Writers Institute. For details, go to nyswritersinstitute.org.