A couple Tennessee Williams Literary Festivals ago, I sat in the audience of a panel made up of notable UNO Creative Writing Workshop graduates. Talk quickly turned to the fact that panelist, Maurice Ruffin’s novel had just been announced as a Random House acquisition. And then, just as quickly, to the fact that no one could recall the last time a Black person from New Orleans had a published a novel on a major publishing house. Thirty years? Fifty? More?
That a room full of literature nerds, including myself could not readily produce the name of the author or the title of his or her book, belies an obvious injustice and absurdity in the publishing industry. That assertion of injustice was challenged however absurdly, by an audience member with the fact that a Black man from Louisiana had indeed published a novel. Albeit almost a decade ago, and not out of New Orleans. Apparently this audience member did not see the fact that one single white male panelist had published five books of his own in the last ten years as making their comments patently ridiculous.
I knew Maurice could feel my body about to literally burst into flames. He shot me a smile and a knowing look that said:
I know. And we gon’ be alright.
Turns out Maurice Ruffin is the first Black writer from New Orleans to publish a novel on a major publishing house. A dizzying and confusing reality in the city Tom Dent once called the “matrix of creativity.” Hopefully, We Cast a Shadow as a work does something to begin to reverse this tide. A point made by Ruffin himself in a recent profile by Susan Larson in The Advocate.
“In the ideal future, this is what Ruffin sees: ‘There are a lot of young black kids in New Orleans who could use some inspiration. Now if any one of them reads my books and says, ‘Have you read that book by Maurice Carlos Ruffin? I can do better,’ well, if that were to happen, I would be so proud.’”
We Cast a Shadow debuts publicly tomorrow and will be celebrated on the same day with a book launch at Ace Hotel . Click here to RSVP! WE CAST A SHADOW Launch and here for another locally written profile of the author.
See you all there!