Author aims to explore stories left untold by others
T. Geronimo Johnson has a love of language, especially as a mode of communication.
“I’m a big fan of storytelling,” said the author, who will speak at UHV on March 9. “I’m especially interested in telling stories I haven’t seen told by others and reaching ground previous writers haven’t covered.”
Johnson is the next author participating in the spring 2017 University of Houston-Victoria/American Book Review Reading Series. The reading will begin at noon in the UHV University West Alcorn Auditorium, 3007 N. Ben Wilson St. It is free and open to the public.
“T. Geronimo Johnson’s writing offers a clear examination of the different perspectives that our world encompasses today,” said Jeffrey Di Leo, dean of the UHV School of Arts & Sciences and ABR editor and publisher. “He uses wit and empathy to make powerful observations about the many layers of our society. I look forward to hearing his reading and the remarks he will share during the event.”
Johnson has published two novels, “Welcome to Braggsville” and “Hold It ’Til It Hurts.” In both stories, Johnson explores basic but important questions.
In “Welcome to Braggsville,” Johnson focuses on D’aron Davenport, a young man from the small town of Braggsville, Ga., as he starts his freshman year at the University of California, Berkeley. While at the university, he forms a bond with three other students from vastly different backgrounds, and the group decides to put on a theatrical protest depicting a lynching during a Civil War reenactment in D’aron’s hometown.
As he was writing the book, Johnson was thinking about the world around today’s students and how many of them want to make the world a better place. That is an admirable trait, he said. Students today are taking activism to the streets, and his characters follow that example by trying to take the theories they learned in class into the real world.
“It’s an examination of how people live what they believe and especially how they learn to love people who are not like them,” Johnson said. “D’aron and the other characters are trying to understand these new environments, but part of being a fish out of water is facing cultural divides. They learn they have to see people as individuals, not by race, gender or region.”
Johnson’s book “Hold It ’Til It Hurts” takes a different look at questions of identity. In the story, Achilles Conroy and his brother, Troy, are black men adopted as children by a white family. They return from a tour of duty in Afghanistan to find their father recently died and left them information about the boys’ birth families. After getting the information, Troy disappears, and Achilles goes to try to find his brother in New Orleans, where he gets caught up in the mayhem of Hurricane Katrina.
Throughout the story, Johnson uses Achilles’ experiences and perspective to examine questions of identity and self-discovery. Achilles struggles with the traditional perception of masculinity. In addition, he gets a new perspective on what it means to be black. In the midst of facing these questions, he sees a new perspective on human suffering.
“The pain and suffering Achilles sees happening in New Orleans is different from what he experienced overseas,” Johnson said. “However, those moments are put side by side with what he saw in Afghanistan, and it impacts how he sees the struggles of life.”
Johnson still is considering what he will read during his visit, but he hopes attendees will come away with an appreciation for different perspectives.
“I want people to be reminded that our world has a broad range of artists working in different media telling their stories,” he said. “Through their work, we find things that affect us all.”
Other writers scheduled for the spring UHV/ABR Reading Series are:
Martha R. Serpas, April 6 – Serpas has published three collections of poetry, “Côte Blanche,” “The Dirty Side of the Storm” and “The Diener.” Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Nation, Image and Southwest Review and has been anthologized in the “Library of America’s American Religious Poems” and “The Art of the Sonnet.” Active in efforts to restore Louisiana’s wetlands, she co-produced “Veins in the Gulf,” a documentary about coastal erosion. She teaches at the University of Houston and serves as a hospital trauma chaplain.
Duane Niatum, April 27 – Niatum, a member of the Jamestown S’Klallam tribe, has been writing poems, stories and essays for more than 50 years. He is published widely in the U.S. and abroad. Niatum has published eight books of poetry, including “The Pull of the Green Kite.” Duane’s writing is connected with the Northwest landscape. The legends and traditions of his ancestors help shape and animate his poetry. He has made a lifelong study of European and American Indian art, literature and culture.
ABR is a nonprofit, internationally distributed literary journal published six times a year. It began in 1977, moved to UHV 10 years ago and has a circulation of about 8,000. The journal specializes in reviews of works published by small presses.
For more information about the UHV/ABR Reading Series, call the ABR office at 361-570-4101 or go to www.americanbookreview.org.