For the 2022 top pick, we return to fiction, following a three-month streak of non-fiction titles. The Book Club’s pick for January is Over There, by local author Jabari Asim. A work of historical fiction, the structure of “Yonder” is that of a group of slaves yearning for freedom, their quest to obtain it, and their love for each other, but it is about much more than that. .
This also applies to Asim, because just calling him an author is woefully insufficient. Granted, Asim is certainly a prolific author and has written over 20 books in multiple genres – fiction, non-fiction, children’s fiction, children’s non-fiction; essays, memoirs, novels, history, short stories, cultural criticism, etc. But at various times in his life he was also a poet, playwright, publisher, critic and teacher. In the past, he was editor-in-chief of Crisis magazine – the NAACP’s flagship journal of politics, culture, and ideas, founded by WEB DuBois in 1910. He served as associate editor of books for The Washington Post and was the book editor St. Louis Post-Dispatch. During his time at the latter journal, he was the only publisher of African-American books in the country. He was a Guggenheim Scholar, National Book Awards elector, and Vice President of the National Book Critics Circle.
In other words, while many people claim to have been there and done that, Asim really embodies the phrase. These days, he’s a professor at the local Emerson College, where you won’t be surprised to learn he wears many hats. Its electronic signature is seven elements deep. He is a professor, director of the MFA program, Elma Lewis Distinguished Fellow in Social Justice, and program director of the school’s James Baldwin Writers Colony. He skillfully brings all this experience, these strengths, to “Là-bas”.
The novel, Asim’s first since 2015’s “Only the Strong”, focuses on a small group of slaves, though they don’t refer to themselves as such – they call themselves “the stolen ones”, their masters, “thieves”. The narrative moves back and forth between the perspectives of the robbed, as they consider the ideas of freedom presented to them by a visiting preacher, who may not quite be a preacher, or may not be alone a preacher. The story is beautiful and pointed, and has earned star-studded reviews. “Jabari Asim’s masterful ‘Yonder’ undoubtedly set our ancestors in dance and joy,” writes Deesha Philyaw, author of ‘The Secret Lives of Church Ladies’ and former Book Club moderator. “This novel made me scream, cry, laugh and, above all, believe.” In his review earlier this week in The New York Times, Vanessa Riley wrote, “With his handling of black love, showing how it existed in the worst of circumstances, tender and memorable, Asim delivers a fresh, sweeping and compelling tale.”
Joining Asim for this conversation will be Lily Rugo, shift manager at the Harvard Book Store, located in the heart of Harvard Square in Cambridge. Originally from St. Louis, Rugo moved to Boston for college and has worked at the Harvard Book Store since 2019. She also met Asim during her days at Emerson College at an event they both spoke at for the The school’s Publishing Club, which makes it a really fun and unique author and bookseller couple! In addition to her work at the bookstore, Rugo also formed the Boston Asian Book Group (and newsletter) to encourage AAPI millennials to read more Asian and Asian American authors, and is the co-host of the “Earth’s Mightiest” podcast. Fangirls,” which focuses on the Marvel Cinematic Universe and other sci-fi stuff.
Harvard Book Store is of course a local institution, in business since 1932. Opened for the tidy sum of $300 by Mark S. Kramer, the store was run by the Kramer family for over 75 years before being purchased by Jeff Mayersohn and Linda Seamonson in 2008. (John Henry, who also owns The Boston Globe, also recently purchased a stake in the bookstore.) In addition to being one of the best bookstores in the area, Harvard Book Store is also famous for its series of author events, and in fact hosted Asim this Tuesday, the day of the book launch. .
Join the Boston.com Book Club on Tuesday, January 25 at 6 p.m. for a virtual chat with Harvard Book Store’s Lily Rugo and author Jabari Asim on “Yonder.”
Buy “Over There” at: Bookstore | Harvard Bookstore
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