Excerpt from: “The Buck, the Black, and the Existential Hero: Refiguring the Black Male Literary Canon, 1850 to Present”

“His lip is slightly curled, like a coiled spring or the haunches of a cat watching and ready to launch on a small and insignificant field mouse in some middle-class suburban backyard, just below an open kitchen window and in a bed of freshly laid flowers, except his lip was poised to let loose the slow leak of a small and clever phrase, rather than inhale an insignificant pest. Nevertheless, he and the coil and the cat were on the verge of something they thought monumental but were each ridding the world of something it never wanted (to begin with)—a mouse, another clever phrase, more relief of excess tension.

…This man did not realize that when one wakes up in the morning or releases a curled-lipped claim of wit or justice, what can happen in the span of the day. He did not think that like the field mouse leaving its nest, an anxious spring releasing its exertion, or a cat thrusting itself through an open window, that one’s life is but a series of chance occurrences. Rather, this man thought of the world as a scripted rehearsal of stimuli and response, actor and audience, and had become reckless in his very belief in the power of cleverness or the repose of moral outrage to manipulate the actors and actions on the stage. He imagined a landscape where there was (yes!) moral outrage but also manipulation, and he imagined that he, too, could raise children to attend college, move out to the suburbs, and take care of a wife who could bake pies and sit them in an opened window, just above innocuous pests and their own small world of wonder and danger, that he could be a Great Baron of this land—albeit not of an entire country or continent but the thirty by sixty square feet of his own backyard!—unaware that he was not hunting as the cat had done but was being hunted as the equally inane pest.”

The Buck is a beginning statement, not of this particular man’s life but of how to begin to think and write about him, how this man’s existence challenges traditional concepts, traditional language forms, and storytelling to reflect the diversity and complexity, contradiction and fluidity, that this man himself is and represents . . .

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