James E. Cherry and the South: A Forecast
James E. Cherry, a Tennessee native, has published
- three collections of poetry----Bending the Blues, Honoring the Ancestors, and Loose Change
- one collection of short fiction ---Still A Man and Other Stories
3. two novels ----Shadow of Light (2007) and Edge of the Wind (2016)
His titles are thematic announcements, pointing us to the blues, heritage, economics, masculinity, and dimensions of Nature ---primal aspects of Southern and Black South creativity. It is also important for a reader to notice to what his choice of epigraphs might point:
William Faulkner ---I'm a failed poet. Maybe every novelist wants to write poetry first, finds he can't and then tries the short story, which is the most demanding form after poetry. And failing that , only then does he take up novel writing.
Octavio Paz ---To read a poem is to hear it with our eyes; to hear it is to see it with our ears.
Carl Sandburg ---Poetry is an echo asking a shadow to dance.
Ernest Hemingway --We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.
And the fact that Cherry dedicated his first novel to Richard Wright, Chester B. Himes and John A. Williams is indicative of his regard for literary ancestry and cultural filiations. He is ambitious, serious about craft and content, and we should read him in the spirit of the critical expectations he provokes.
My blurb for Cherry's first novel reads: Like the work of Richard Wright, Shadow of Light is in the tradition of black novels that become unforgettable. I wanted to suggest that his fiction encouraged growth of consciousness, that it did not pander to Trump-like short attention spans as does a considerable amount of contemporary literature. In an email I told Cherry that Shadow of Light "succeeded in giving us a remarkably balanced portrait of a policeman within a narrative frame which exposes the ironies (especially historical ones) of the ordinary. Indeed, it is your portrayal of Walter Lewis Robinson that justifies my placing you in line with Richard Wright." In Edge of the Wind, Cherry conjures up the ghost of Bigger Thomas from Native Son, inspiring me to comment, later this year, at greater length on the cultural merit of such an allusion. And I suspect my comments will tend to be more conservative than liberal.
Jerry W. Ward, Jr. January 1, 2017