Grant Park is a page-turning and provocative look at black and white relations in contemporary America, blending the absurd and the poignant in a powerfully well-crafted narrative that showcases Pitts’s gift for telling emotionally wrenching stories.
Grant Park begins in 1968, with Martin Luther King’s final days in Memphis. The story then moves to the eve of the 2008 election, and cuts between the two eras as it unfolds. Disillusioned columnist Malcolm Toussaint, fueled by yet another report of unarmed black men killed by police, hacks into his newspaper’s server to post an incendiary column that had been rejected by his editors. Toussaint then disappears, and his longtime editor, Bob Carson, is summarily fired within hours of the column’s publication.
While a furious Carson tries to find Toussaint—at the same time dealing with the reappearance of a lost love from his days as a 60s activist—Toussaint is abducted by two improbable but still-dangerous white supremacists plotting to explode a bomb at Obama’s planned rally in Grant Park. Toussaint and Carson are forced to remember the choices they made as idealistic, impatient young men, when both their lives were changed profoundly by their work in the civil rights movement.
Editorial Reviews From the Publisher
“A novel as significant as it is engrossing.” —Booklist, starred review
“Grant Park is layered, insightful, and passionate. Pitts’s subtly explosive language grips readers with the delicate subject matter and earnestly implores them to understand that ‘[race] has always meant something and it always will.’ The scars will remain, but stunningly powerful examinations like Grant Park can be the salve that helps heal open wounds.” —Shelf-Awareness, starred review
“An important book, one that honestly examines the current, tumultuous racial divide in our country and demands we not turn away from its harsh realities.” —Amy Canfield, Miami Herald
“[A] high-stakes, hard-charging political thriller. . . . The sharply etched characters, careful attention to detail, and rich newspaper lore propel Pitts’s socially relevant novel.” —Publishers Weekly
“Leonard Pitts has written a taut thriller that weaves together a stark look at America’s tortured racial past with a fast-paced tale of terrorist conspiracy and love rekindled.” —Neil Steinberg, Chicago Sun Times
“The book is a page-turner, but also one that commands deep reflection on history, racism, and personal choices.” —Blanca Torres, The Seattle Times
“Pitts masterfully revisits [election night on November 4, 2008] and four decades of the civil rights struggle to create one of the most suspenseful and spectacular fictitious moments you’ll experience this fall.” —Patrik Henry Bass, Essence
“Pitts does a skillful job of building tension in the novel’s historical sections as well as on Election Day. . . . He also does something not every political thriller writer does: builds believable, complex characters.” — Colette Bancroft, Tampa Bay Times
“And then there are those thrills—gasping, mouth-gaping page-turners that author Leonard Pitts Jr. weaves through another realism: truthful, brutal plot-lines about racial issues of the last five decades, mulling over exactly how far we’ve really come. That makes this will-they-live-or-won’t-they nail-biter into something that also made me think, and I absolutely loved it.” —Terri Schlichenmeyer, The Bookworm Sez
GRANT PARK: CHAPTER ONE
Martin Luther King stood at the railing, facing west. The moon was a pale crescent just rising in early twilight to share the sky with a waning sun. He leaned over, joking with the men in the parking lot below. A couple of them were wrestling playfully with James Orange, a good-natured man with a build like a brick wall.
“Now, you be careful with preachers half your size,” King teased him.
“Dr. King,” called Orange in a plaintive voice, “it’s two of them and one of me. You should be asking them not to hurt me.”
“Doc,” someone called out from below, “this is Ben Branch. You remember Ben.”
“Oh yes,” said King. “He’s my man. How are ya, Ben?”
Another voice yelled up from below. “Glad to see you, Doc.”
As Malcolm Toussaint moved toward King, it struck him that the preacher seemed somehow lighter than he had the last time Malcolm had seen him. It had been late one night a week before, by the Dumpsters out back of the Holiday Inn. The man Malcolm met that night had seemed… weighted, so much so that even Malcolm had found himself concerned and moved—Malcolm, who had long scorned the great reverend doctor, who had, in the fashion of other young men hip, impatient, and cruel, mocked him as “De Lawd.” But that was before Malcolm had met the man. That was before they had talked. Now he moved toward King, his mind roiling with the decision that had sprung from that moment, the news he had come to share. King, he knew, would be pleased. There would be a smile, perhaps a heavy hand clamping on Malcolm’s shoulder. “Good for you, Brother Malcolm,” he would say. “Good for you.”
Malcolm was vaguely amused to find himself here on this balcony, anticipating this man’s approval. If you had told him just a few days ago that he would be here, ready to go back to school, ready to embrace nonviolent protest, he would have laughed. But that, too, was before. Malcolm meant to raise his hand just then, to catch King’s attention, but a movement caught his eye. Just a reflected ray of the dying sun, really, glinting off something in a window across the street. Something that—he knew this instinctively—should not have been there. He wondered distractedly what it was.
King’s voice drew him back. “I want you to sing it like you’ve never sung it before,” he was calling to someone in the parking lot below. “Sing it real pretty.” And Malcolm realized he had missed something, because he had no idea what they were talking about. His attention had been distracted by… what was that?
“It’s getting chilly.” Yet another voice calling to King from below. “I think you’ll need a topcoat.”
“Okay, Jonesy,” King was saying. “You really know how to take good care of me.”
And here, the moment breaks, time fracturing as time sometimes will into its component parts, until an event is no longer composed of things happening in a sequence, but somehow all happens at once. And you can see and touch and live all the smaller moments inside the right now. This is how it is for Malcolm Toussaint now. King is laughing. Malcolm is taking a step toward him. King is straightening. Laughter is echoing from below. King is reaching into a pocket for his cigarettes. He is becoming aware of Malcolm on his left. His head is coming around. There are the bare beginnings of a welcoming smile. And Malcolm knows. Suddenly knows. And Malcolm is leaping, leaping across space, across time itself, becoming airborne—he was sure of it, that detail felt right, even though by this time King is barely six feet away. Malcolm grabbing two hands full of expensive silk, yanking Martin Luther King off balance, yanking him down hard in the same instant they all hear the popping sound like a firecracker, in the same instant he feels the soft-nosed 30.06 bullet whistle past his cheek like a phantom breath, in the same instant he falls awkwardly across King’s chest.
And then time seems to reel for a crazy breathless moment, as if decid¬ing what to do now. The fulcrum of history teetering, the future hanging, suspended in midair.
Until all at once and with a brutal force, time decides itself and slams back into gear.
A woman shrieked.
Someone yelled, “Somebody is shooting!”
Someone yelled, “Doc, are you OK?”
Someone yelled, “Stay down!”
Malcolm’s breath was ragged in his own ears. His heart hammered like drums. Then from beneath him, he heard a familiar baritone voice say calmly, very calmly, but yet, with a touch of breathless wonder. “Oh my God. Was that a gunshot?”
Their eyes met. Malcolm didn’t speak. Couldn’t speak. “Brother Malcolm,” said Martin Luther King, his voice still suffused with wonder and yet, also, an almost unnatural calm, “I think you just saved my life.”
Malcolm was overwhelmed by the thereness of the man. He was not myth and mist and history. He was not a posterboard image on a wall behind a child dutifully reciting in a child’s thin, sweet tenor, “I have a dream today.” No, he was there, beneath 20-year-old Malcolm Toussaint, who had fallen crosswise on top of him. Malcolm could feel the weight and heft of him, the fall and rise of his chest. He could see his very pores, could smell the tobacco on his breath, the Aramis on his collar. Martin Luther King was there, still alive, beneath him. Malcolm opened his mouth to speak.
And then, he awoke.
( Continued… )
© 2015 All rights reserved. Book excerpt reprinted by permission of the author, Leonard Pitts Jr. Do not reproduce, copy or use without the author’s written permission. This excerpt is used for promotional purposes only.
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About the Author
Leonard Pitts, Jr. is a nationally syndicated columnist for the Miami Herald and winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, in addition to many other awards. He is also the author of the novels Freeman (Agate Bolden, 2012) and Before I Forget (Agate Bolden, 2009); the collection Forward From this Moment: Selected Columns, 1994-2009, Daily Triumphs, Tragedies, and Curiosities (Agate Bolden, 2009); and Becoming Dad: Black Men and the Journey to Fatherhood (Agate Bolden, 2006). Born and raised in Southern California, Pitts now lives in suburban Washington, D.C., with his wife and children.