Monday, February 20, 2017

Ahgottahandleonit!




AHGOTTAHANDLEONIT
by Donovan Mixon

Tim, already two years behind in a Newark inner-city high school, will be a sophomore again if he doesn’t pass the English proficiency exam. He’s got good street creds, riffing strange rap-rhymes and running like the wind. Maria, a girl in his class, catches his eye, but he’s still thinking about his ex, Rene.

At home, he’s packed into a 3-flat with his mom, sister and Uncle Gentrale. His father, a drunk, recently walked out on the family, wanting some “freedom.” He tells Tim, “Ahgottahandleonit.” He doesn’t. Nor does Tim. The last day of school before summer, in front of his classmates, Tim insults Mr. Jones, the one teacher who has wanted to help. Tim doesn’t know why he did this. It was just always there, a rage born of some dark history, one his dad cannot explain. His uncle tries though––it’s about some crazy stuff going down when he and Tim’s dad were young, living on the farm.

In a fight with some gangbangers, Tim’s rage boils over. He ends up slamming Chucky’s head with a rock. He steals his phone and carries it, like an albatross, throughout the summer. He wants to run, to hide, to get revenge, to be free. Maybe Mr. Jones will understand?

Tim wants his life to matter.

Praise for Ahgottahandleonit

“An existential examination of the cycle of violence.” —Kirkus Reviews

Publishes February 2017


Donovan Mixon is a musician. He has an ear for dialogue like August Wilson. In Ahgottahandleonit, Tim’s voice rings so true, it resonates with the heart of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me.

In 1988, when Donovan was a full-time faculty member at Berklee College of Music, he won an NEA grant for jazz composition. Five years later he moved to Europe for professional and artistic development.

The move abroad turned out to be a seventeen-year sojourn living as a freelance performing artist, clinician and college professor (Istanbul Bilgi University, University of Bologna), performing at major jazz festivals (Umbria, Monticello, Istanbul, Ankara) and as a clinician at educational institutions in Istanbul, Budapest, Shanghai and Singapore.

During these years, Donovan released four recordings featuring prominent musicians from Boston to Milan to Istanbul. The apex of his recording career was the recording Free With Lee with the great alto saxophonist Lee Konitz. (More information can be found at donmixon.com).

Donovan lives and works in a Chicago suburb with his wife Diana and son Ozan.
Ahgottahandleonit is his first novel. Audio renditions of Tim’s poems from Ahgottahandleonit can be found here.

Why I wrote Ahgottahandleonit
One of the things that racism in America robs black men of is the opportunity to be ordinary.
In this story, I wanted to show Tim––a black teen from the inner city––as possessing a full life. He is trying to make sense of, to learn his part and role, in what looks to be a dysfunctional and discouraging world. I wanted the themes of this book to combat how we too often see such black boys in the news media, literature and film––as two-dimensional characters or ‘super predators,’ prone to violence and crime. The proliferation of recently documented police killings of unarmed black men and their immediate criminalization in the media has contributed to this perception in the American psyche.

The reasons for this reality are many and deep. Since America has yet to own up fully to its twin birth crimes of genocide and chattel slavery, I suspect this crude depiction of black males will continue for some time. However, the rapidly changing demographics of our country give me hope.

In many ways, Tim is an average teenager. He has a father, mother, sister, teachers, friends, aunts and uncles––and they care about him deeply. Like the rest of us, he also has choices in his life and choices in how he reacts to what happens to him from moment to moment.

His life over the summer manifests in a series of decisions that, to his immature mind, appear to be rational but in reality they are self-destructive and related to the pathology of his social-economic status in America. For many reasons way beyond his ability to fully comprehend, he finds himself in the tragic circumstance of living in a state of crisis.

Sometimes, to quote a friend, making bad choices is how you find your way.
I grew up in an environment much like Tim’s. However, my folks worked hard for me to be one of the ‘good boys’ in the neighborhood (lucky me). I worked hard to walk that line of being down or cool and at the same time, studious. Later, I realized that my white counterparts I met in college were unconcerned with such things. They were free to be themselves, were socially and financially secure, had loads of positive models around them and didn’t have to be an exception.

In Ahgottanhandleonit, I try to show the ordinariness of Tim, a young black man born into a social history that has, through oppression, murder and exclusion shaped his and his family's perception of their lives. One of the things that racism in America robs black men of is the opportunity to be ordinary or average. We are either thugs or the exception. Tim is neither. He’s a boy in a situation where kids think that exaggerated machismo will gird them against the systemic forces lined up against their lives, will define them as men. Without models and for as long as he lives in an oppressed environment, Tim has to put on the mask to survive.

So, yes the jive talk and mannerisms are superficial—always have been. The story is in the hearts, decisions and circumstances of the characters.

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