Portland author tackles race and incarceration in new book
As part of the 15th annual Great Writers, Great Readers event, author Mitchell Jackson tackled issues of racism, family life, writing, history, incarceration and patriotism while speaking about his new book “Survival Math: Notes on an All-American Family,” which will be released on Tuesday, March 5.
“I see my work as a theme,” Jackson said. “Hopefully it is evolving.”
The discussion, which was held in the Guthart Cultural Center Theater, addressed an audience of community members, students and faculty on Monday, Feb. 25. The evening including a question-and-answer session and a live reading of excerpts of his debut novel, “The Residue Years.”
Among his many accolades, Jackson has won a Whiting Award, The Ernest J. Gaines Prize for Literary Excellence, was a finalist for The Center of Fiction Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Awards.
“I really liked the aspect about not being afraid to write about something that may end up making people upset or bring up emotion,” said Irini Tsounakas, a sophomore fine arts and English major
Katrina Sims, assistant professor of history at Hofstra, served as the moderator for the discussion. Sims explained that Jackson’s writing includes many different genres, including memoir, historical narrative and racial politics. “You weave a really complex tapestry,” she said as the two discussed his mother’s stories mentioned in the book.
Jackson emphasized voice and authenticity in all of his works as he read them. “It’s not just style for style’s sake,” he said. “It’s who I am in the world.”
“When writers write about things pure, raw and meaningful, they try to focus on just telling the stories,” said Miranda Maliszka, a sophomore environmental resources and geographic information systems major. “He makes the effort to make others not just understand the story, but understand the person behind the story.”
From drug dealing to incarceration to finding his voice, Jackson emphasized the importance of research and honesty in all of his works.
He said he wants to “figure out how to translate this experience that is only mine,” so that others can understand his unique and personal point of view.
“It’s really powerful that he wants to tell people and be completely frank and bareboned,” said Kira Turetzky, a junior chemistry major. “It’s like ‘I’m not going to change, alter or hide anything about this, this is my life, this is my story and you have every right to read about my life as much as the next person.’”
Jackson said his next book will center around a cult leader from in Portland, Oregon, which he is basing on a true story.
“The project is, how can I make sure they don’t forget us,” Jackson said. “I could write for me but I write for us.”