#PowerRead: Grant Park by Leonard Pitts, Jr.


Grant Park by Leonard Pitts, Jr.

Comparing the real-life police shootings of African-American men to the fictional shooting in his novel that propels the plot forward, Pitts says that he "knew that Grant Park was timely, but I could not be coming out at a better time."  Pitts is hoping to "fire up some dialogue" about race with his third novel, Grant Park (Agate Bolden, Sept.), which features an African-American journalist and his white editor, both veterans of the 1960s civil rights movement, who collide on the eve of Obama's election as president. Malcolm Toussaint, the journalist, is "sick and tired of being sick and tired" of how Americans deal with race after hearing of an unarmed African-American being shot by Chicago police even as people are celebrating Obama's historic presidential campaign and certain victory over John McCain.

Grant Park is a page-turning and provocative look at black and white relations in contemporary America, blending the absurd and the poignant in a powerfully well-crafted narrative that showcases Pitts's gift for telling emotionally wrenching stories.

Grant Park begins in 1968, with Martin Luther King's final days in Memphis. The story then moves to the eve of the 2008 election, and cuts between the two eras as it unfolds. Disillusioned columnist Malcolm Toussaint, fueled by yet another report of unarmed black men killed by police, hacks into his newspaper's server to post an incendiary column that had been rejected by his editors. Toussaint then disappears, and his longtime editor, Bob Carson, is summarily fired within hours of the column's publication.

While a furious Carson tries to find Toussaint—at the same time dealing with the reappearance of a lost love from his days as a 60s activist—Toussaint is abducted by two improbable but still-dangerous white supremacists plotting to explode a bomb at Obama's planned rally in Grant Park. Toussaint and Carson are forced to remember the choices they made as idealistic, impatient young men, when both their lives were changed profoundly by their work in the civil rights movement.


Praise for Leonard Pitts, Jr.'s novel Grant Park

"The state of US race relations in 1968 and 2008 is seen through the eyes of two veteran Chicago newsmen, one black and one white, in this opportune novel. . . . Pitts adroitly blends history with fiction and actual figures (King, Obama) with characters in a plot that builds suspense around the supremacists’ plans as anger between the races gives way to understanding. A novel as significant as it is engrossing." —Booklist, starred review


"In the aftermath of this summer's racially motivated mass murder in Charleston, South Carolina, by an avowed white supremacist, there's near-eerie prescience in Pitts' historical novel. . .[Grant Park], with urgency and passion, makes readers aware that the mistakes of the past are neglected at the future's peril." —Kirkus Reviews


"This high-stakes, hard-charging political thriller from Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Pitts (Freeman) tells the saga of two journalists, switching between the time periods of Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1968 assassination and election day 2008. Sixty-year-old Malcolm Toussaint is a popular black syndicated news columnist writing for the Chicago Post who has two Pulitzer Prizes and resides in a “trophy” mansion.

However, he has grown “tired” if not embittered over the frustrating lack of progress in race relations between whites and blacks. After receiving one too many racist emails from his readers, he responds by composing a blunt, scathing column, but his white editor, Bob Carson, kiboshes it. After Malcolm hacks into Bob’s computer and publishes the controversial column anyway, both men are deemed culpable and fired.

Following this, a pair of white supremacists kidnap Malcolm; they also reveal their heinous plan to detonate a “McVeigh bomb” in Grant Park when Barack Obama appears there, as the clock begins ticking to stop them. Pitts effectively builds the backstory in which young Malcolm witnesses King’s fatal shooting in Memphis, and young Bob falls in love with the political black activist Janeka Lattimore, who now resurfaces in his life.

The sharply etched characters, careful attention to detail, and rich newspaper lore propel Pitts’s socially relevant novel." —Publishers Weekly Review for Grant Park


GRANT PARK: CHAPTER ONE

Martin Luther King stood at the railing, facing west. The moon was a pale crescent just rising in early twilight to share the sky with a waning sun. He leaned over, joking with the men in the parking lot below. A couple of them were wrestling playfully with James Orange, a good-natured man with a build like a brick wall.

“Now, you be careful with preachers half your size,” King teased him.

“Dr. King,” called Orange in a plaintive voice, “it’s two of them and one of me. You should be asking them not to hurt me.”

“Doc,” someone called out from below, “this is Ben Branch. You remember Ben.”

“Oh yes,” said King. “He’s my man. How are ya, Ben?”

Another voice yelled up from below. “Glad to see you, Doc.”

As Malcolm Toussaint moved toward King, it struck him that the preacher seemed somehow lighter than he had the last time Malcolm had seen him. It had been late one night a week before, by the Dumpsters out back of the Holiday Inn. The man Malcolm met that night had seemed… weighted, so much so that even Malcolm had found himself concerned and moved—Malcolm, who had long scorned the great reverend doctor, who had, in the fashion of other young men hip, impatient, and cruel, mocked him as “De Lawd.” But that was before Malcolm had met the man. That was before they had talked. Now he moved toward King, his mind roiling with the decision that had sprung from that moment, the news he had come to share. King, he knew, would be pleased. There would be a smile, perhaps a heavy hand clamping on Malcolm’s shoulder. “Good for you, Brother Malcolm,” he would say. “Good for you.”

Malcolm was vaguely amused to find himself here on this balcony, anticipating this man’s approval. If you had told him just a few days ago that he would be here, ready to go back to school, ready to embrace nonviolent protest, he would have laughed. But that, too, was before. Malcolm meant to raise his hand just then, to catch King’s attention, but a movement caught his eye. Just a reflected ray of the dying sun, really, glinting off something in a window across the street. Something that—he knew this instinctively—should not have been there. He wondered distractedly what it was.

King’s voice drew him back. “I want you to sing it like you’ve never sung it before,” he was calling to someone in the parking lot below. “Sing it real pretty.” And Malcolm realized he had missed something, because he had no idea what they were talking about. His attention had been distracted by… what was that?

“It’s getting chilly.” Yet another voice calling to King from below. “I think you’ll need a topcoat.”

“Okay, Jonesy,” King was saying. “You really know how to take good care of me.”

And here, the moment breaks, time fracturing as time sometimes will into its component parts, until an event is no longer composed of things happening in a sequence, but somehow all happens at once. And you can see and touch and live all the smaller moments inside the right now. This is how it is for Malcolm Toussaint now. King is laughing. Malcolm is taking a step toward him. King is straightening. Laughter is echoing from below. King is reaching into a pocket for his cigarettes. He is becoming aware of Malcolm on his left. His head is coming around. There are the bare beginnings of a welcoming smile. And Malcolm knows. Suddenly knows. And Malcolm is leaping, leaping across space, across time itself, becoming airborne—he was sure of it, that detail felt right, even though by this time King is barely six feet away. Malcolm grabbing two hands full of expensive silk, yanking Martin Luther King off balance, yanking him down hard in the same instant they all hear the popping sound like a firecracker, in the same instant he feels the soft-nosed 30.06 bullet whistle past his cheek like a phantom breath, in the same instant he falls awkwardly across King’s chest.  And then…




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About Ella Curry