Sarah Carter ’24
On Thursday, October 27, the Working Writers Series held its third event of the semester. The event underscored the work of Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, a novelist from Spring Valley, New York. The event featured both an afternoon discussion and a nighttime reading of Adjei-Brenyah’s recent work, Friday Black, for which he was named a New York Times-bestselling author.
At the outset of the evening event, Adjei-Brenyah expressed a devout passion for issues of social inequity and systemic racism in the United States. He shared this passion – which became evident through his buoyant and bright presence in the room – with students and other attendees by citing examples from his own life.
Prior to beginning his readings, he debriefed the audience on a rally he attended following the death of George Floyd – an event he was scheduled to speak at. At the time, Adjei-Brenyah was incensed by an unforeseen police presence at the event – a feeling that only increased upon learning that he was to speak directly after the attending officers. When presented with this particular hindrance, Adjei-Brenyah did not back down; rather he held steadfast to his intentions and beliefs and rose to the stage to speak out against the inequities of society, including one line very explicitly intended for the police that said, “Fuck you; we don’t care about your turkeys,” in which he referenced the professed efforts of the police to deliver turkeys to members of the community for the holiday.
This same unbridled emotion was reflected in the later reading of his book Friday Black. The acclaimed work features a collection of short stories set in a host of near-future or dystopian settings that consider the violence and painful absurdities of life in the United States. Some of the works from which he read included, “The Finklestein 5,” “Zimmer Land,” and “How to Sell a Jacket as Told by Ice King.” While each short story broaches sensitive subject matter surrounding racial identity, classism, and capitalism, Adjei-Brenyah shared his writing with a patent intention to make his feelings known to anyone willing to listen.
Adjei Brenyah first read passages from the opening story in his work of fiction. “The Finkelstein 5,” as he so names this chapter, follows a young Black man named Emmanuel, who narrates the story. In this mini-episode within the larger text, Emmanuel tussles with the idea of how to exist in an unjust society. Adjei-Brenyah reveals in this story that just some few days earlier, a “ . . . jury delivered their verdict in a court case in which a white man, George Wilson Dunn, was acquitted of wrongdoing after being indicted for using a chainsaw to remove the heads of five Black children—later dubbed the “Finkelstein Five”—who’d been outside the library” (Sullivan, 2020). While “The Finkelstein 5” is one of the most violent stories developed in Adjei-Brenyah’s collection, its significance with regard to to issues of ongoing social unrest cannot be understated.
Following a recitation of other stories from Friday Black, Adjei-Brenyah welcomed questions and comments from students and attending faculty in the room. He had notably unique responses to questions about his reasons for becoming an author and his experience of writing during college. To the first question, he lamented that, for a long time, he did not know working as a writer was a real possibility for himself. Only when his writing began to take on some success did he begin to identify himself as a professional author; now he sees that success in his academic field was always possible, to begin with. To the second question, he responded that in college, writing was a cumbersome task, often punctuated by long moments of writer’s block and lacking progress. However, he noted that learning to rejoice in these minor impediments allowed him to write better and enjoy writing more. His comments suggested that one should revel in the experience of writer’s block because in the experience lie all of the challenges of writing, and conversely, all of the eventual rewards. The remaining Working Writers Series Events schedule is as follows: On November 10th at 7:15 PM, there will be a literary panel with conversations and readings by Rodrigo Fuentes, Megan McDowell, and Jee Leong Koh.
Photo from Joyce Kim for The New York Times