East City Bookshop presents Zach Powers and Tope Folarin discussing their latest novels, First Cosmic Velocity and A Particular Kind of Black Man. Book signing and Q&A to follow the reading.
A Particular Kind of Black Man:
One of Time’s 32 Books You Need to Read This Summer
A stunning debut novel, from Rhodes Scholar and winner of the Caine Prize for African Writing, Tope Folarin about a Nigerian family living in Utah and their uncomfortable assimilation to American life.
Living in small-town Utah has always been an uneasy fit for Tunde Akinola’s family, especially for his Nigeria-born parents. Though Tunde speaks English with a Midwestern accent, he can’t escape the children who rub his skin and ask why the black won’t come off. As he struggles to fit in and find his place in the world, he finds little solace from his parents who are grappling with their own issues.
Tunde’s father, ever the optimist, works tirelessly chasing his American dream while his wife, lonely in Utah without family and friends, sinks deeper into schizophrenia. Then one otherwise-ordinary morning, Tunde’s mother wakes him with a hug, bundles him and his baby brother into the car, and takes them away from the only home they’ve ever known.
But running away doesn’t bring her, or her children, any relief from the demons that plague her; once Tunde’s father tracks them down, she flees to Nigeria, and Tunde never feels at home again. He spends the rest of his childhood and young adulthood searching for connection—to the wary stepmother and stepbrothers he gains when his father remarries; to the Utah residents who mock his father’s accent; to evangelical religion; to his Texas middle school’s crowd of African-Americans; to the fraternity brothers of his historically black college. In so doing, he discovers something that sends him on a journey away from everything he has known.
Sweeping, stirring, and perspective-shifting, A Particular Kind of Black Man is a beautiful and poignant exploration of the meaning of memory, manhood, home, and identity as seen through the eyes of a first-generation Nigerian-American.
About First Cosmic Velocity:
A stunningly imaginative novel about the Cold War, the Russian space program, and the amazing fraud that pulled the wool over the eyes of the world.
It’s 1964 in the USSR, and unbeknownst even to Premier Khrushchev himself, the Soviet space program is a sham. Well, half a sham. While the program has successfully launched five capsules into space, the Chief Designer and his team have never successfully brought one back to earth. To disguise this, they’ve used twins. But in a nation built on secrets and propaganda, the biggest lie of all is about to unravel.
Because there are no more twins left.
Combining history and fiction, the real and the mystical, First Cosmic Velocity is the story of Leonid, the last of the twins. Taken in 1950 from a life of poverty in Ukraine to the training grounds in Russia, the Leonids were given one name and one identity, but divergent fates. Now one Leonid has launched to certain death (or so one might think…), and the other is sent on a press tour under the watchful eye of Ignatius, the government agent who knows too much but gives away little. And while Leonid battles his increasing doubts about their deceitful project, the Chief Designer must scramble to perfect a working spacecraft, especially when Khrushchev nominates his high-strung, squirrel-like dog for the first canine mission.
By turns grim and whimsical, fatalistic and deeply hopeful, First Cosmic Velocity is a sweeping novel of the heights of mankind’s accomplishments, the depths of its folly, and the people—and canines—with whom we create family.
Tope Folarin is a Nigerian-American writer based in Washington, DC. He won the Caine Prize for African Writing in 2013 and was shortlisted once again in 2016. He was also recently named to the Africa39 list of the most promising African writers under 40. He was educated at Morehouse College and the University of Oxford, where he earned two Masters degrees as a Rhodes Scholar. He is the author of A Particular Kind of Black Man.
Zach Powers is a native of Savannah, Georgia, and lives in Arlington, Virginia. His novel, First Cosmic Velocity, is coming in August 2019 from Putnam/Penguin, and his debut story collection, Gravity Changes, won the BOA Short Fiction Prize. He is Director of Communications at The Writer's Center in Bethesda, Maryland. Get to know him at ZachPowers.com.