Autobiography of the Lower East Side (Paperback)
Northampton House Press, 9781937997397, 238pp.
Publication Date: April 1, 2014
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"This well established poet makes a brilliant debut in fiction with these complex, poetically detailed, interrelated stories of Blacks from Africa, the Caribbean and the USA who converge and form an artistic community in the early 1960s in the most easterly regions of Alphabet City ." -David Henderson, author of 'Scuse Me While I Kiss the Sky "Ismaili charts the lower East side just prior to the turbulent, revolutionary Sixties, when the influence of Leroi Jones and the Black Arts Movement signaled a cultural sea-change. Her characters persevere through desertion, loss, abandonment and betrayal, to achieve fulfillment in a fractured society." - Vinnie Burrows "A sensuous and intimate portrait of a place and a generation. Belongs in the canon of American literary and socio-political classics, alongside Diane di Prima, James Baldwin, Grace Paley, Vivian Gornick, and Jack Kerouac. A masterpiece." - Sara Pritchard, author of Crackpots and Help Wanted: Female Autobiography of the Lower East Side is a novel in short stories, set in New York during the late nineteen-fifties and the turbulent decade that followed. Inhale the exotic spices from tenement hallways, smell the sweat and garbage in the streets, feel the sweltering heat of summer in the City. Taste the texture and densities of African dishes: the rice and pepper sauce, stewed fruits, tagine, okra soup, bread and fish. Walk the alphabet streets in the daytime, weaving among pushcarts, or at night in the biting winds of winter, footsteps too close at your back. Sway to the cool jazz. Groove to the lilt of African voices reciting poetry, intoning prayers. Follow a junkie riding out a Jones, an anarchist handing out pamphlets, a pacifist leading a draft resister on the Underground route from New York City to Canada. The Autobiography of the Lower East Side pulsates with the heartbeat of Manhattan's Lower East Side in the 1960s, its artists and activists caught in the racial, sexual, political, and class tensions of the era. Ismaili's richly-evoked setting presents characters learning to survive in the jazz scene, the theater, and the arts while dealing with interracial relationships, abuse, addiction, and the toll of the Vietnam draft.
About the Author
Rashidah Ismaili is an internationally-known poet, dramatist, and nonfiction writer. Her poetry collections include Cantata for Jimmy (2004) and Missing in Action and Presumed Dead (1992). Ismaili coedited the anthology Womanrise (1978). Her work is included in The Heinemann Book of African Women's Poetry (1995). A reading of her play Rice Keepers was staged in 2006 at the American Museum. She conducts soirees at her Harlem apartment, Salon d'Afrique, and has taught or presented at St. Peter's College, Rutgers University, Hunter College, Pratt Institute, and Wilkes University in African, African American and African Caribbean Literature and Creative Writing. Ismaili's awards include the Puffin Travel Award, PEN, Dramatist League, Kennedy Center for the Arts, STARS, Miami International Book Fair, Zimbabwe International Book Fair, National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women's Club, Inc., and the Sojourner Truth Meritorious Award. She now lives in Harlem.