cover image Shelter: A Black Tale of Homeland, Baltimore

Shelter: A Black Tale of Homeland, Baltimore

Lawrence Jackson. Graywolf, $17 trade paper (344p) ISBN 978-1-64445-083-3

A Black man makes a conflicted return to his roots in this bittersweet meditation on race and belonging. In 2016, Jackson (My Father’s Name) moved back to his hometown of Baltimore to take a professorship in English at Johns Hopkins University, and bought a house in the upscale white neighborhood of Homeland—formerly a slave owner’s estate and a far cry from the inner-city surroundings of his boyhood. He found the battle to maintain his house to the homeowners association’s standards a source of satisfaction—the yard-work scenes are epic and engrossing—but also of anxiety as he worried about implied accusations by old friends of Uncle Tom–ism. On that peg he hangs an atmospheric history of Black Baltimore, sketching vivid profiles of famous locals—a tragic Billie Holiday, an ambitious Frederick Douglass who “refused to believe that the rules... applied to him”—while revisiting old haunts, surveying political wrangles over poverty and crime, and taking in a King Day parade that gets stymied by horse manure. In resonant prose, Jackson ably conveys the feuding aspirations and unease of the Black middle class: “I want my son to have the confidence of the people who owned the land, without having to hate himself for it.” The result is a stirring reflection on the meaning of home. Agent: Regina Brooks, Serendipity Literary. (Apr.)