cover image Stories from the Tenants Downstairs

Stories from the Tenants Downstairs

Sidik Fofana. Scribner, $26 (192p) ISBN 978-1-982145-81-1

The residents of a low-income high-rise apartment building in Harlem form the beating heart of Fofana’s dynamic debut collection. The hardscrabble tenants of Banneker Terrace tread water while their greedy landlord imposes evictions. In “The Rent Manual,” Mimi in 14D remarks on how the building houses “a little bit of everybody,” including “folks with child-support payments, uncles in jail, aunties on crack, cousins in the Bloods, sisters hoein.” Besides raising her young son, she desperately cobbles together the rent before late notices land on her doorstep again. In “The Okiedoke,” Swan in 6B nervously awaits his friend’s release from prison, while in “Camaraderie,” Dary in 12H, who is gay, has high hopes for his future while doing sex work to pay the rent. Quanneisha, the former gymnast at the heart of “Tumble,” also sees better things for herself. But the apartment walls are closing in on her and elderly Mr. Murray in 2E, who has been challenging passersby on the street to a game of chess on a plastic crate for decades, until he realizes the time for games is finally up. Fofana delivers the hardy, profane, violent, and passionate narration in Black English Vernacular, and finds the humanity in all his characters as they struggle to get by. These engrossing and gritty stories of tenuous living in a gentrifying America enchant. Agent: Ethan Bassoff, Massie & McQuilkin. (Aug.)