In my new job as assistant editor at GGIS Publishing, a faith-positive (mostly Christian) start-up publishing company, one of my jobs is to take raw notes and develop a book. Sometimes, more than raw – in more than one way. I am working with a rapper I’ll call “A.”. This is a story that just makes me want to scratch my hair out.
Boy, 5, loses father to jail on attempted murder charge. Mom, younger brother, 3, and older sister, 10, move in with grandmother and great-grand-mother. Mom has series of affairs and gets hooked on crack cocaine. Most recent affair, with children present, borders on prostitution to feed the habit. Boy saves mom from strangulation by attacking man from behind with a knife. Little family huddles until man falls asleep, takes bus fare and escapes back to grandma. Grandma kicks mom out for smoking crack in the laundry room of the house.
The streets reach out with the hugs and embraces that grandma and great-grandma can’t provide. Any wonder where boy’s mind is in school instead of learning to read? African-American version of one of Dickens’s street urchins commits series of petty crimes to make it from day to day, and for the “excitement.” A way to know you’re still alive, I guess. Never mind how many p
A serial runaway from group homes and programs, boy reaches teenhood, still unable to read, but now skilled at slinging rock. Not a power playa, because his allies all die violent deaths. His brother and sister steal his safe, appropriating the contents, which he needs to repay his upline. More people die. A goes in and out of Juvenile Hall. He gets a girl pregnant (she’s 15). Somehow, he manages to put a demo for Capitol (remember them?), and they tell him to expand on it; they like what he’s got. But he goes back to the hoosegow. In men’s prison now, he makes it a quest to become literate.
Skip forward. He’s released, and he starts making just a bit of headway in his own life. He marries the mother of his baby, now ten years old. His group starts making a living at hip-hop, and he makes a practice of showing up at random places with coats (unbranded), shoes, and toys. He starts looking like a family man, and no observer of his YouTube stuff would ever guess where he came from. He seems almost shy, almost embarrassed to be on camera.
It is a story of redemption, but you can’t tell me that this is going to be easy for this white, Jewish man who has never seen a rock of crack before to write this.
Incidentally, I am posting all of A Song for Aba as fan fiction on my sister blog Aquaverse for free so that those lovers of YA/MG (hero age 10, heroine 12) will impress Lois Lowry with the need for Annemarie Johanssen to live after 1943. Please check it out.