Every year when the clock strikes midnight on December 31, I do something much different than most people. Right at the dawning of a New Year, “Should all acquaintance be forgot,” resonates at every gathering of New Year revelers. Instead of joining with the crowd, I prefer to listen to Nina Simone’s melodic sounds, “There’s a new world coming and it’s just around the bend. There’s a new world coming, and this one’s coming to an end.” I really do appreciate Ms. Simone’s words because they are filled with hope for our race.
As a novelist, I consider myself to be a dreamer. Most writers who engage in the creation of fiction are dreamers. The great Peruvian writer, Mario Vargas Llosa wrote in his, Letters to a Young Novelists, that the goal of the writer is to create a world that far exceeds the one in which we live. The dreamer or visionary sees beyond the frailties of our world and shares with us his or her vision of a better existence. What the writer does with words, Nina Simone does in song. Her verse continues, “There’s a new voice calling and you can hear it if you try. And it’s growing stronger with every day that passes by…There’s a brand new world coming…The one that we’ve had visions of coming in peace, coming in joy and coming in love.”
As I look back over this past year, I believe Ms. Simone’s words grow in relevance. As a Black man and writer, my concern for our future as a culture increases with every young child killed by the police or the gangs. For far too many Black Americans in this country there is no peace, there is no joy and there is no love. No matter how hard we’ve tried over the decades since emancipation, we often seem to come up short. And our condition continues to worsen. It is almost impossible to find peace in these turbulent times. When a twelve year old Tamir Rice can be killed by the Cleveland Police and when nine year old Tyshawn Lee can be murdered by a punk gang member and they represent only the tip of the iceberg, we have a crisis. The irony of our dilemma is that there is nothing intrinsically bad or evil about our people. To the contrary we have, over the centuries, been the most forgiving and loving race within this multi-cultural nation in which we live.
That is why every first day of the New Year, I concentrate on a new world that is within our reach. A world where, as Nina Simone tells us in song, is filled with peace, joy and love. That is contrary to what we are experiencing in our communities. And that is why I write. It is my niche and where I am anchored for the remainder of my life. My works will not glorify the vulgar, the obscene, the killing, the drugs and the slow extermination of my race.
The great novelist Charles Chestnutt exclaimed in an interview with Crisis Magazine in 1926, “the realm of art is almost the only territory in which the mind is free, and of all the arts that of creative fiction is the freest.” The issue then becomes how do we as artists use the freedom to create. Do we mirror the violence that is drowning out our culture and write about the negative influences on our young, or do we, as Nina Simone suggests, dream of a new world that is about the eradication of hate and destruction.
I know exactly where I stand on these critical issues to our culture, and I believe that all of us in the year 2016 must take a stand. And hopefully, it will be to uphold the new world that our great prophetess told us “is just around the bend.”