As summer approaches, I am always looking for good books to add to my summer reading list. There’s nothing better than a good book while traveling, at the beach, or just allowing yourself a little down time when school is no longer in session and the world seems to move at a slightly slower pace.
I have the pleasure of serving as a judge for the Gotham Book Prize, a generous award for authors who have written a book about New York City—fact, fiction, poetry. The book prize, and generous award, are the brainchild of Bradley Tusk and Howard Wolfson, two men who love New York City, politics, and all of the characters that make this city vibrant.
This year we awarded the prize to two books because we could not decide between the wonderfully researched “The Sewing Girl’s Tale” by John Wood Sweet (Holt and Company 2022) or the amazingly detailed short stories told in “Stories from the Tenants Downstairs” by Sidik Fofana (Simon & Schuster 2022). I was immediately drawn to Fofana’s rich storytelling. Each character felt like someone with whom I have crossed paths at some point in my life. There is nothing better than a page-turning book whereby as you’re reading you’re asking yourself just how an author came up with so many characters, voices, stories, and emotions.
Fofana is part of a new style of writer who unapologetically centers a myriad of Black voices while simultaneously weaving a larger narrative about urban environments. In so many ways, New York City is an additional character in his stories, patiently sitting in the background in some stories and pushing its way to the foreground in others.
I had an opportunity to meet Fofana and hear about the odyssey he endeavored to complete the book, writing in basements and classrooms and kitchens at any time of day or night. This Bronx high school teacher is simultaneously helping his 11th and 12th grade students find their voices on the page and creating vivid stories for us, the reader, to devour and better understand ourselves.
It was no surprise when Fofana and I discovered a mutual friend and colleague, the prolific writer and Pulitzer Prize winner Mitch Jackson, author of “The Residue Years” (Bloomsbury 2013) and “Oversoul: Stories & Essays” (The Collections House 2012), to name just a few of his writings. Both Fofana and Jackson are building upon the foundation set by the likes of James Baldwin and Maya Angelou and adding 21st century nuance, debates, and triumphs of Black people in their writing.
If you have not done so already, pick up their books and add them to your summer reading list. You’ll be sure to thank me!
Christina Greer, Ph.D., is an associate professor at Fordham University, the author of “Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream”, and the co-host of the podcast FAQ-NYC and host of The Blackest Questions podcast at TheGrio.