Thursday, January 11, 2018

The Man Who Cried I Am

It's wonderful to see John A. Williams' almost forgotten 1968 novel, THE MAN WHO CRIED I AM, receive some richly deserved attention after all these years.  I mentioned Williams' novel--and "the King Alfred Plan" discussed below--in Chapter Fifteen of my first book, CRYPTOSCATOLOGY:  CONSPIRACY THEORY AS ART FORM

What follow are the first three paragraphs of Merve Emre's 12-31-17 New Yorker article entitled "How a Fictional Racist Plot Made the Headlines and Revealed an American Truth":

In 1968, the African-American novelist John A. Williams published his third novel, “The Man Who Cried I Am,” a bitter, beautiful, and feverish depiction of the failed promises of the civil-rights era. The novel, which was a best-seller and went through six printings, narrates the lives of two writers, one of whom, Max Reddick, is a journalist whose career path resembled Williams’s own. Like Max, who had served in the Army during the Second World War, Williams had enlisted in the Navy, where he was almost killed—not by the enemy but by a gang of white American sailors. Both men later worked as beat reporters for New York magazines. Their shared suspicion of the subtle, yet omnipresent, racism of the white creative class and the black integrationists who mimicked its liberal politics led both of them abroad—first to Europe, then to Africa at the height of the Black Power movement.

The novel’s other central character, Harry Ames, is a celebrated black American writer of social-protest fiction who so closely resembled Richard Wright that the lawyers at Little, Brown expressed some concern that the author’s estate would sue. And yet there are elements of Williams’s own story in Harry’s, too. Like Harry, Williams had been nominated for a prestigious writing prize—the American Academy in Rome’s Rome Prize Fellowship—only to have it withdrawn without explanation. As Williams recalled, he had lost the fellowship after a racially charged interview with the academy’s director, an incident that seemed proof to him that most of the “good, white moderate people of the North and South” were privately “anti-Negro,” for to be so publically was “no longer fashionable.” “The vast silence—the awful, condoning silence that surrounded the affair fits a groove worn,” he reflected. “The rejection confirms my suspicions, not ever really dead and makes my ‘paranoia’ real and therefore not ‘paranoia’ at all,” he wrote in an article in Nugget. “That is the sad thing, for I always work to lose it.”

“The Man Who Cried I Am” is a novel about the kind of paranoia that proves to be entirely justified, a theme that culminates in its penultimate chapter, in which Harry, living in self-imposed exile in Paris, dies under suspicious circumstances. Before his death, we learn, he had recently discovered a briefcase containing “the King Alfred Plan”: a series of leaked documents outlining the measures that the U.S. government would adopt if the racial unrest and discord of the mid-nineteen-sixties turned into civil war—an “Emergency” that would involve “all 22 million members of the Minority.” “The Minority has adopted an almost military posture to gain its objectives, which are not clear to most Americans,” the plan read. “It is expected, therefore, that, when those objectives are denied the Minority, racial war must be considered inevitable.” The plan, which was named after the first Anglo-Saxon king of England, detailed how the government would “terminate, once and for all, the Minority threat to the whole American society, and indeed, the Free World.”

To read Emre's entire article, click HERE.

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