A question was thrown out at a dinner party the other night: what gives you hope? My response: writers. In a world beset by divisions, words in the world matter. Have never mattered more. What I celebrate is the rising up of a diverse range of voices; powerful writers who create worlds through words cross fiction and nonfiction. A writer I am celebrating—proudly advocating for—is one who has a foot in both literary worlds: Mitchell Jackson.
His first book, the novel, The Residue Years, was a raw exploration of the profound and complicated relationship of a mother and her son, against the backdrop of the inexorable pull of addiction and cycle of poverty. In language that is raw and heartbreakingly alive, love shines in the darkest hours.
Jackson’s second book began with a question: what is the toughest thing that you survived? That became the starting point of Survival Math: Notes on an All-American Family. This nonfiction series of essays is an exploration of ideas, of the calculation of survival, of the connective thread of family and community; a complex web that encompasses race, inequality, prison, poverty, violence, addiction, and the choices made in the hustle of life.
Literature is humanity’s great call. Mitchell Jackson answers that call with honesty and blistering truth that cracks open a world we enter through the pages of his books.
From The Residue Years
Mitchell S. Jackson grew up black in a neglected neighborhood in America’s whitest city, Portland, Oregon. In the ’90s, those streets and beyond had fallen under the shadow of crack cocaine and its familiar mayhem. In his commanding autobiographical novel, Mitchell writes what it was to come of age in that time and place, with a break-out voice that’s nothing less than extraordinary.
The Residue Years switches between the perspectives of a young man, Champ, and his mother, Grace. Grace is just out of a drug treatment program, trying to stay clean and get her kids back. Champ is trying to do right by his mom and younger brothers, and dreams of reclaiming the only home he and his family have ever shared. But selling crack is the only sure way he knows to achieve his dream. In this world of few options and little opportunity, where love is your strength and your weakness, this family fights for family and against what tears one apart.
Honest in its portrayal, with cadences that dazzle, The Residue Years signals the arrival of a writer set to awe.
From Survival Math: Notes on an All-American Family
In a thrillingly alive, candid new work, award-winning author Mitchell S. Jackson takes us inside the drug-ravaged neighborhood and struggling family of his youth, while examining the cultural forces—large and small—that led him and his family to this place.
With a poet’s gifted ear, a novelist’s sense of narrative, and a journalist’s unsentimental eye, Mitchell S. Jackson candidly explores his tumultuous youth in the other America. Survival Math takes its name from the calculations Mitchell and his family made to keep safe—to stay alive—in their community, a small black neighborhood in Portland, Oregon blighted by drugs, violence, poverty, and governmental neglect.
Survival Math is both a personal reckoning and a vital addition to the national conversation about race. Mitchell explores the Portland of his childhood, tracing the ways in which his family managed their lives in and around drugs, prostitution, gangs, and imprisonment as members of a tiny black population in one of the country’s whitest cities. He discusses sex work and serial killers, gangs and guns, near-death experiences, composite fathers, the concept of “hustle,” and the destructive power of drugs and addiction on family.
In examining the conflicts within his family and community, Jackson presents a microcosm of struggle and survival in contemporary urban America—an exploration of the forces that shaped his life, his city, and the lives of so many black men like him. As Jackson charts his own path from drug dealer to published novelist, he gives us a heartbreaking, fascinating, lovingly rendered view of the injustices and victories, large and small, that defined his youth.