Lover Man (Paperback)
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Stories of loners, outsiders, tricksters, addicts, jazzmen, and drifters in the Jim Crow South—a classic of 1950s Black fiction.
Raw, fearless, ironic, the stories in Lover Man (1958) promised the birth of a new sensibility in American fiction. Inspired by the bebop he loved, and the philosophy he studied at the Sorbonne, Alston Anderson looked back at the North Carolina of his youth to capture the hidden lives of Black boys and men in the early 1940s. Fascinated by loners and outsiders—tricksters, addicts, jazzmen, drifters, “queers”—and by the spiritual cost exacted by the myths of white supremacy, Anderson assembled an original kind of story collection, whose themes troubled and bewildered many of his early readers. Although later championed by Langston Hughes and Henry Louis Gates. Jr., among others, this—his only collection—has remained out of print since the ’50s.
In his afterword to this new edition, the literary historian Kinohi Nishikawa investigates Anderson’s brief but brilliant career, the controversy his work provoked, and the light it sheds on his era.
About the Author
Alston Anderson (1924–2008) was born in Panama to Jamaican parents who brought him to North Carolina as a child. After serving in the Army during World War II, Anderson attended North Carolina College and Columbia University on the G.I. Bill, as well as the Sorbonne, where he studied German philosophy. Moving in expatriate circles, he overlapped with James Baldwin at Yaddo, stayed with Robert Graves in Majorca, and co-interviewed Nelson Algren with Terry Southern for the Paris Review. After Lover Man, he published one novel, All God’s Children, a critical and commercial failure. Following a series of personal and professional ruptures, Anderson vanished from the public record in the early 1970s until the time of his death in New York’s Bellevue Hospital.
Kinohi Nishikawa is the author of Street Players: Black Pulp Fiction and the Making of a Literary Underground. He teaches African American print culture at Princeton University.
“A gem of Americana . . . These stories span the early decades of the 20th century and address with nuance the Black characters’ negotiations with youthful turmoil, sexual desire, and race in the U.S. . . . Anderson’s feat is in finding the poetry of everyday moments among marginalized people. This deserves a place on the shelf of mid-century classics.”
— Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Models of subtlety and sparsity . . . Anderson’s short story ‘Signifying’ is a masterpiece of the genre.”
— Henry Louis Gates
"One of the lost names of Black literature ... His style is straightforward, but the simplicity is deceptive, the calm surface at odds with the depths sending up their clues . . . His ear, like Hurston’s, can be faultless . . . A portrait of black postwar migration from the lusty, incestuous-feeling, small-town South to the war-changed streets of Harlem, where there is bebop and heroin and a boxer answering the door in his underwear who is maybe also rough trade."
— Darryl Pinckney
"Taut short stories about African American outsiders . . . Anderson’s writing is taut, the narrative voice beguiling . . . [His] clean prose belies his narrative trickery . . . Fresh and unsettling."
— Douglas Field
“A genuine talent . . . Racy, ribald, robust, and startling.”
— Orville Prescott
"What distinguishes Alston’s stories from the usual white American variety—derived from O. Henry at however far a remove—is that there’s no inevitable whip-crack ending. In fact, he makes his points by judicious ‘signifying’ . . . We see [his subject] clearly from the part of the retina that has not been fogged by too much direct staring."
— Robert Graves
“The [herald] of a new literary renaissance . . . [The] so-called bourgeoisie will regurgitate over Mr. Anderson’s stories. They'll want to say ‘’Taint so!’ But it is so, and the only reason the bourgeoisie will object is because Mr. Anderson has drawn our picture for everybody (including white folks; in fact, mostly white folks) to see. There’s the rub.”
— P. L. Prattis
“In spite of some strong themes, [these stories] are told with a rare delicacy, by what Mr. Anderson calls signifying rather than direct statement; they have no tricks and yet how clever they are . . . I do not remember a small book which has given me such a large experience.”
— Rumer Godden