Caroline Muniz ‘23
New York Times bestselling author Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah was able to come to Holy Cross to read a variety of his pieces as a part of the Working Writers Series. His works have appeared in many prestigious publications and he has received numerous awards for his writing. He read from his bestselling collection of short stories Friday Black, as well his unreleased novel Chain Gang All Stars.
This reading began with a warm introduction by Professor Leah Cohen, who was able to hear Adjei-Brenyah read his works at a previous talk. She described that despite the quiet speakers, she had admired the way he spoke. She also stated that the stories in Friday Black, “raise difficult, necessary questions.” She was able to set the tone for what would be a night full of compelling and meaningful readings.
His first reading came from his newest novel that has not been released yet titled, Chain Gang All Stars. The novel takes place in a dystopian universe in which those who are in prison can fight in battle for the possibility to opt out of their prison sentences. He asks important questions such as whether or not it is correct to put people in cages and who we, as a society, are “allowed to harm,” as he said. Loretta has survived these fights for three years and the prologue that Adjei-Brenyah read from takes place during one of these important fights. He mentions that the government within his story includes commentary on the violent nature of our own. He describes that within these systems function on the basis that, “if someone harms, harm them back, and make a profit off of it.”
He was then able to read The Finkelstein Five, which is the first story featured in Black Friday. The story was from the perspective of a Black boy named Emmanuel, who watches as the discrimination within the justice system exudes its power once again. Adjei-Brenyah explained that he wanted people to at least listen to this story whether they appreciated it or not. It is a violent and cinematic portrayal of an issue that is still prominent today. He used different tones of voice throughout the piece to show the ways in which surviving meant adjusting one’s tone.
He also read two other stories from the same book. He was able to read the story, Friday Black, a short story that included commentary on the savage behavior the holiday brings as well as Things My Mother Said, which grew into a memoir-style telling of his childhood.
After he read from these various pieces, those who attended were able to ask the author questions. He was able to provide great insight into who he is and where he gets his inspiration. As it was said earlier, he wanted his stories to have cinematic energy, which is hard to convey through text since one must envision each action for themselves. One student specifically asked Adjei-Brenyah about the things that lead to his genre shift from Friday Black to Chain Gang All Stars. He explained that he sees himself as a “genrelist,” which was a term he used to describe the idea that he can see himself writing a wide variety of genres. Another student was able to ask whether or not he had always known he would be a writer. He explained that he never knew it was an option for him. However, he knew that he was very good at it and began to read pieces in which he “saw authors that were humans.” Although writing became harder, he knew that meant it would always be fun.
Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah truly said so much within his short amount of time here and his reading made great impacts on those who had the privilege of listening.