It seems hard to believe, since it’s only been a year since Darktown came out, but in less than three weeks, I’ll be publishing my new book, Lightning Men. It takes place two years after Darktown, in 1950, during a time in which racial tensions in Atlanta were high as some brave African-American families moved out of their overcrowded neighborhoods and into areas formerly deemed “whites only.” Although it continues the story of Officers Lucius Boggs, Tommy Smith, and Denny Rakestraw, it also works as a stand-alone book for anyone who hasn’t read Darktown.
I’m excited that early critics have been so positive, with Lightning Men receiving starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, and Booklist, a trifecta I’ve never pulled off before.
Because Lightning Men features Klansmen and a Nazi group called the Columbians that did indeed operate in Atlanta back then, I admit this feels a bit eerie given current events. Back when I started working on the book in 2014, I had not expected we’d be talking about Nazis and the Klan in 2017, but life is surprising, and we’re always riding the currents of our complicated history. While the book seeks to be another entertaining crime story, I also hope it sheds light on how we got to where we are today and provides for some thought-provoking moments and good discussion at book clubs.
I’ll be giving talks in Atlanta, Chapel Hill NC, Oxford MS, Denver, Houston, Scottsdale AZ, Woodstock GA, and Toronto, so if you live nearby, please see my Events page and drop by!
When I set out to write Darktown, a project I began in 2012, I knew early on that I wanted it to be not only a series but a wide-ranging one that looked at many different characters through a charged time in history. Because that book was set in 1948, with the hiring of Atlanta’s first African American police officers, I thought it would be interesting to follow some of those characters (and others) over the next 15-20 years and look at how the Civil Rights Movement remade Atlanta, the South, and the entire United States.
I’ve always written about what it means to be American, and I thought this series could help me more closely explore and better understand the world that I inherited as someone who grew up in the 1970s and ‘80s, a time of increased racial equality but also white flight to suburbs, the rise of “law and order” politicians, the War on Crime, lack of investment in cities, and a complete reorganization of the Democratic and Republican parties along racial lines.
Much has changed in our own politics since I wrote the first lines of Darktown in 2012, and issues of race, power, and politics feel as current as ever. One thing that hasn’t changed is my belief, as an artist, that empathy and understanding can bring us closer together, and that storytelling—and an honest reckoning with our shared history—is an important way to get there.
Thanks for reading, and I'm looking forward to sharing the new book with you soon.