How a Fictional Racist Plot Made the Headlines and Revealed an American Truth


Excerpt from Merve Emre's new book, Paraliterary: The Making of Bad Readers in Postwar America. She is an assistant professor of English at McGill.

"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."

Read more: The New Yorker