Friday, March 2, 2018

The Vain Conversation - Spotlight and Excerpt

Inspired by true events, The Vain Conversation reflects on the 1946 lynching of two black couples in Georgia from the perspectives of three characters—Bertrand Johnson, one of the victims, Noland Jacks, a presumed perpetrator, and Lonnie Henson, a witnesses to the murders as a ten-year old. Lonnie’s inexplicable feelings of culpability drive him in a search for meaning that takes him around the world, but ultimately back to Georgia where he must confront Jacks, as well as himself, with actions that he hopes will free him from the grip of the past.

In The Vain Conversation, Anthony Grooms adds importantly to the national dialogue on race relations. With complexity, satire and sometimes levity, he explores what it means to redeem, as well as to be redeemed, on the issues of America’s race violence and speaks to the broader issues of oppression and violence everywhere.

A foreword is provided by American poet, painter, and novelist Clarence Major. An afterword is written by T. Geronimo Johnson, the bestselling author of Welcome to Braggsville and Hold It ’Til It Hurts.

Anthony Grooms is the author of Bombingham: A Novel and Trouble No More: Stories, both winners of the Lillian Smith Book Award for fiction. Born in Charlottesville, Virginia, he has taught writing and American literature at universities in Ghana and Sweden and, since 1994, at Kennesaw State University in Georgia.

March 1, 2018 Publication Date
256 pages
ISBN 978-1-61117-882-1
Hardcover, $27.99t
ISBN 978-1-61117-883-8
Ebook, $17.99t
Story River Books
Pat Conroy, founding editor at large




Blackberries. Blackberries. The boy’s head was filling up with blackberries. He had moved slowly, deeper and deeper, into the bramble, until he was surrounded by it. The tangle of vines arched above and around him so that it seemed he had entered a cave of brambles. A gift from God, the boy thought. Light dappled through the vines. The thicket swayed gently in the breeze and the fine thorns scratched against him. He didn’t care. He was in the world of blackberries.
            He knew how to step through the bramble to avoid a serious scratching, and how to share the bramble with a black snake or a ringed king snake. Thrashes and chickadees and sometimes a more brilliant bird like a yellow finch might land on a vine, bowing it and then springing to another. Only the ticks bothered him. They hid in the brittlegrass and broomsedge that edged the thicket. He rolled his pants to his knees, and let them crawl up his naked calves until he could see them and pick them off.
            He left his pail at the edge of the patch and with his cup in front of him balanced on one leg and leaned over the briars to the nests of plump berries. They were so fat that three of them filled his palm—and the season was just beginning. In spite of his eating one for every three he kept, the pail was filling, nearly a gallon, and he had only been picking half an hour.
            A shadow passed over and he looked up to see a turkey vulture. He liked them. They were like kites, the way they sailed on a breeze. Once, not far away, on Christmas Hill, he had followed a vulture back to its nest in the abandoned house on the adjacent ridge. It was an old settler’s house, his father had told him. It was a two-story wooden house with a rusty weather vane in the shape of an eagle on top. The vulture had flown into one of the upstairs windows, so the boy went into the house, climbed the dry rotted stairs to the second floor. Loose plaster crumbled under his feet and he thought the creaking floors must be paper-thin. In the second room of four he came upon the nest. The stench stupefied him. Before he got his bearings in the guano-splattered room, a bald, red-faced and completely white-feathered chick, the size of a small chicken, rushed at him. It spewed vomit at him, so unnerving him that he took three steps at a time, tumbling more than running down the stairs. The chick was the ugliest thing he had ever seen, and yet it would grow into such a graceful and beautiful bird to look at in the air.
            At the end of the memory, he heard a rambling and puffing coming up the hill on the wooded side of the bramble. Once before he had heard this sound and a small black bear had run out of the woods. But there was something else, some popping and snapping of twigs. He heard a ripping of leaves and saw leaves floating down from high in the trees. Somebody was shooting. He squatted down in the briars. It got quiet for a moment, then he heard men’s voices and another shot, a snap from a little gun. It remained quiet for a few moments, and the boy crawled out of the patch and sneaked along the crest. Then he saw who the men were and he felt relieved. They were Sheriff Cook and some other men. Two of the men were dragging something. He stood up, thinking maybe they had shot a bear. But it would have been a bear with a flowered dress on.
            The seasons went through a cycle and the boy just stood, getting a year older in a few minutes.  His heart knocked against ribs.  He did not realize that the moment, as prodigious and capricious as it seemed, was as deeply rooted and prickly as the blackberry vines.  It was also a moment that jinxed him. The men were dragging a colored woman.  She was dead.