Photo: John Ricard.
Mitchell S. Jackson’s debut novel, The Residue Years (2013), was praised by publications including the New York Times, The Paris Review, and The Times (London). The novel won the Ernest Gaines Prize for Literary Excellence and was a finalist for the Center for Fiction’s Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize, the PEN/Hemingway Award for First Fiction, and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award. Jackson’s honors include fellowships from TED, the Lannan Foundation, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and the Center for Fiction. His writing has appeared in The New York Times Book Review, Salon, and Tin House, among other publications. He serves on the faculty at New York University and Columbia University.
Mitchell Jackson writes into Portland like Edward P. Jones writes into Washington, D.C., with his judicious left eye on the full hearts of his characters and his vigilant right eye attuned to the wolf at their door. His classically orchestrated novel, “The Residue Years,” novel, is suffused with humor, lyricism and compassion. It follows the parallel narratives of a mother and son whose lives are shaped by their involvement with drugs. Grace, the mother, recently released from jail, is struggling to stay clean. Her son, Champ, a college student, is dealing on the side, and convincing himself that he’ll avoid being caught. Jackson is a powerfully confident writer, with an unerring ability to embody voices. Grace’s fearfulness and doubt and Champ’s certainty and swagger form striking counterpoints in a story about the way poverty and policy can destroy a family.
From The Residue Years
Peoples, you listening?
This is how it go.
If you’re cold enough they name you.
Clutch or Jack Knife or K-Dub or 3-D or Dead Eye or D-Reid or Big Third or Smooth or DaBell—score twenty or thirty a season, and bam, you’re Stu or Pickle or Free or Fish or Big Blass or King Cole or Doc—they’ve christened you T-hop or B-hop or Pooh or Fluff or the Honey Bee or Houseguest or B-Moore or J. D. or Bookie. Handle your biz lugis luge and everywhere they’ll say your name, call out T-Cage, T. T., Gumby, Banger, A-Train, Nickle, Action, P-Strick, JoJo, L. V., T-Jones, Blazer.
We’re talking MVPs and state champs and first-team All-Everythings, dudes who anyday you wanted it would kill your weak ass at the park.
In my city, hoop’s the hegemony.
In the Rose City, the P, what the deal is, if they name you, you’re anointed. And in the P that’s what we cherish, what we love if nothing else: Year after year after year we harangue who’s greatest of the ones who dropped 40s and 50s pre a three-pointer, which phenoms scored 60! 70! 80! Guys named J-Bird or Zelly-Roo or T. B. or D-Stoud or Slash or T-Bone or T-Ross or T-Hamp or Juice or Ice or Silk—middle school man-childs who played not a lick beyond the eighth, or the luckier-than-thous who hang-timed off to college handcuffed by the city’s collective hope. The General and 2-Ounce and Stretch and Big City and Slider and Truck and Duke and the one we named the GOAT: legends, a few of them, all-leaguers in every league they played.
My word, a nickname is a christening, meaning you got a shot, meaning they think you can go, which is one chance more than most of us, so no wonder the chosen are all there is to speak of. No wonder when, for most, hoop’s about our only shot to be better and bigger than the rest, to secure a life that counts.
But on the flip side, fall short and then what?
Read more work from the 2016 Whiting Award winners here.