Jeff Hobbs went to Yale. So did Robert Peace. Jeff Hobbs went on to write a novel, The Tourists, that became a national bestseller. Robert Peace went on to become a teacher, slid into the drug trade, and was brutally murdered at 30. In The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League but Did Not Survive (Scribner, Sept.), Hobbs, who was his college roommate and friend, wrote this compelling and tragic story of Peace who straddled the world of academia and the world of the street, but succumbed to the vast gap in between.
Hobbs’s intent, he explains, is not to bloviate on the failure of the system but rather to lay bare “the reality of opposing insular environments.” He says, “Often overlooked in the bigger conversation is the stress under isolation that comes with two opposing archetypes: you can’t shed your roots and you can’t go home again.” The takeaway that he wants readers to have is that “asking for help is not the same thing as showing a sign of weakness. There is no shame in receiving help.” When Hobbs talks about college as a unique time when one is surrounded by truly intelligent people, peers, professors, and others whose job is to help you, the heartbreak in his voice is palpable. There is no doubt that the book, as the author claims, comes from “a place of passion.”
“We all know people,” Hobbs says, “who because of intellect or charisma or stature in the workplace are deemed to be inoculated against frailties.” In Peace’s case, Hobbs explains, this notion was exacerbated by the thought that “people from his world—the streets of Newark—were not equipped to give him advice because he went to Yale, while folks from Yale were not able to give him advice because he grew up in Newark.”
He began the book with trepidation for a couple of reasons. Faculty from Yale cautioned him that “a white guy telling the story of poor black people is not comfortable,” he recalls. Moreover, “I wasn’t confident or sure that anyone would care, relate to, or be interested in the murder of an anonymous drug dealer.” Yet he was determined to assert that Peace’s life is so much more important than his death. So he forged ahead and found that he was received generously from those in Newark who knew Peace: his friends, his mother and father, his dealers, and more. He attributes his warm reception to “the commonality of caring about Rob.”
You can meet Hobbs today at the Adult Buzz Authors panel, 10–11 a.m., on the Downtown Stage.