A great honor to be listed for consideration by 2019 Lambda Literary Committee.
This is an excerpt from an article run in July's edition of the Chestnut Hill Local by Len Lear.
by Len Lear
David Jackson Ambrose, a resident of East Falls and author of a powerful new novel, “State of the Nation,” signed copies and read from the book on June 16 at Big Blue Marble Books, 551 Carpenter Lane in West Mt. Airy. Here is the second part of our interview with him:
•You have said that pop culture glamorizes difference. Very interesting. What is the effect of that (and social media) on young blacks?
“It is a very dichotomous arrangement. But it is really no different than the effect the media and American culture has had on the rest of the world. It shows this myth that communicates a way of life that does not even exist but that everyone attains to. It shows us a very glamorized diversity, too. Like all the non-white people are these biracial beings with auburn curly hair, and they move in this very accepting environment (Target, Cheerios, H&M commercials), and so we think America is very diverse and accepting, but our everyday existence tells us it is not. America takes care of us but also excludes us. I think Chris Rock described it best. He said our relationship with America is sort of like that uncle who used to molest you but also paid your tuition at college.”
•What are the ramifications of the Trump era on Black America? (Trump followers would certainly say they are not racists. I recently heard Bill Maher say that there are two things most Trump followers hate: racism and black people.)
“Really, I find it heartbreaking. White Americans, at least poor and working class white Americans, have been just as conditioned to this paradigm as African Americans are. It’s in our genes. It’s the legacy of capitalism. Racism had to exist in order to justify slavery, which had to exist in order to create what has become the most powerful, most wealthy country ever. America was constructed on the backs of slave labor. Trump is nothing new. He is the same as it ever was.
“Obama was a dream that all white Americans dreamed of for themselves as this totally accepting, non-racist citizen ready to step away from the shadow of its racist past. However, once that man stood in office, looking so beautiful and clean, with his beautiful children and his beautiful wife and their pedigree that most white Americans cannot even compare to, it brought about a tremendous self-hatred that, as racism has always done, manifested itself as hatred of the other rather than an acknowledgement of feelings of inferiority.
“I really say that Obama is the reason that Trump has ascended to the office. He would not have been considered as a valid choice had the perfection of Obama not been in place first.
“So, while this change seems too pivotal to white Americans, for older blacks, this is nothing new. Now younger black kids, this might be new for them, and they have the power to make a change. They are using social media to broadcast civil unrest and police acts of terror. This is different than when broadcasts of civil disobedience were available during the civil rights era because now the power to disseminate these images is not always in the hands of those few in positions of power, and so grassroots efforts are able to make significant changes in ways that they haven’t before.”
•What writers, past or present, do you admire the most?
“Toni Morrison, William Faulkner, Alice Walker, Zora Neale Hurston, Jacqueline Susann (yeah, I said it), Somerset Maugham, James M. Caine, Junot Diaz, bell hooks, Audre Lourde, Prince, Marvin Gaye, George Gershwin, Bjork, Madonna, Anais Nin, Tricky, Sapphire, Kanye West, James Baldwin.”
•What is the best advice you ever got?
“Shut up and listen. You don’t know nearly as much as you think you do.”
•What is the hardest thing you have ever done?
“Walk out my door each day. Present at the NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) a month after burying my mother.”
•If you could meet and spend time with anyone, living or dead, who would it be and why?
“Salvador and Gala Dali. Can you imagine? He was so creative. And Gala was so rude. I read that if you asked to use her bathroom, she would assault you because she thought it was rude to use other people’s bathrooms … I LOVE THAT! Anna Nicole Smith. She seemed so sweet. Joan Crawford. She did not. Bette Davis, Josephine Baker, Eartha Kitt, James Baldwin, Diana Vreeland, The Mills Brothers, The Andrews Sisters, The Chordettes, Black Betty (the 17th century black prostitute rumored to be the muse for the song), Harriet Tubman. Man, there are so many; I just better end this now!”
“How’s the book doing?” Everyone asks with an inquiring smile.
I smile and reply, “I’m not really sure yet.”, because, I’m not sure what they mean by “doing” . Because “doing’” can mean different things to different people.
I assume that by “doing” they mean how many books have been sold, which means how much money have I made. And then I feel that maybe I haven’t been working aggressively enough to promote the book. So I go into overdrive, contacting outlets that might allow me to discuss the work that is being done in STATE OF THE NATION.
Racism Bigotry Wiggers Faggots Perverts NonEmpathetic Police State Apparatus Prostitution Immigration Legionnaires Disease Cancer AIDS HIV Pedophilia incest
But then I have to remind myself
I did not write STATE OF THE NATION to make a lot of money.
I did not write it to be mainstream
Yes, I want my book to touch as many lives as possible
But I also want it to be ‘cool’.
And cool is NOT mainstream.
That is the same reason I shopped my book to independents. I didn’t want a phalanx of editors reconfiguring the book into a book of the month selection. Quieting my voice. diluting the rawness of the work because they might interpret the intentional as a misstep.
“Why are there random names written on blank pages, with no other narrative - delete!”
No. Those names have meaning. They are the names of the murdered children of Atlanta.
They are there like ghosts, haunting the chapter that follows their name.
They are the bodies of the black bodies felled by police overeaction.
Do you forget their names?
Well, their names are here. They are here so that you can’t forget them. So that you must say them.
Yusef Bell, A
Cool is 'the underground'. Known to a select group of people before the masses jump on board.
Cool is like house music. The music that wasn’t played on the radio. That you had to go to the clubs to hear, back before everyone decided that they wanted to hear the same top 40 crap in the clubs that they hear on the radio.
Cool is the opening gasps of Michael Jackson on “Workin’ Day and Night”. Where he’s African, elemental; chanting along to that tribal, percussive beat before it descends into crossover banality.
In this debut novel, a trio of black teenagers grapples with racial prejudice while a serial killer preys on black children in Atlanta.
Teens Santos, Luq, and Dion spend much of their days together “wilding out,” trying to pass the time and hustle up some cash. All three of them are perennially strapped for money—Dion, who dresses up like a girl and refers to himself as a lady, turns tricks with men for meager payouts. Santos makes regular visits to a clinic to participate in an experimental initiative that’s eerily similar to the infamous Tuskegee Experiment, darkly and poignantly depicted by Ambrose. At one point, Santos is reduced to fighting in a “faggot in a box,” a brawling match that pits one gay fighter against another, a debasement that fetches him an embarrassing $300 prize. Luq lives in a mostly white suburb—he’s one of seven black students at a high school of 435—and plans to attend the Pittsburgh School of Design after he graduates. Unlike Santos and Dion, he’s deeply conflicted about his sexual identity and a virgin, though he suffers sexual assault at the hands of men more than once in the story. All three wrestle with the burden of racial prejudice, are routinely treated with contemptuous suspicion by the police, and all but dismissed when they turn to officers for help. In his absorbing book, Ambrose hauntingly creates an atmosphere of dread and predation by continually referring to the serial murder of black children in Atlanta in the late 1970s and early ’80s, an epidemic of violent crime that reinforced for many the vulnerability of black communities. This isn’t a plot-driven novel, but the characters are richly drawn and the themes intelligently evoked. The writing swings between a poetically lyrical narrative and grittily authentic dialogue. An older black man, Silas, who still seethes with anger over his unwitting participation in the Tuskegee Experiment, affectingly describes the teens’ collective predicament: “The cops aren’t here to protect you. They here to protect the world FROM you. ‘Cause they convinced the world that we all criminals; ain’t got no value.”
A mesmerizing tale of racial inequality and sexual discovery. "Kirkus Review"
While J.D. Vance's "Hillbilly Elegy" focuses on a mostly White demographic, and is a work of non-fiction, there is a shared thematic to my work of fiction, "State of the Nation".
The common thread is the disaffection of American youth that seems to be a fallout from the lack of options and resources as blue collar jobs became less available as we moved from an industrial to an information economy.
White working class people were of the impression that they were losing out to non-white people via affirmative action and government entitlements.
Black working class people were of the impression that they were losing out to white people due to the preferential treatment built into American society from systemic racism.
These perceptions seem to be creating a bigger rift between groups that blind us to the fact that we are more the same than we are different. This country belongs to all of us.