The Talking Drum
Featured on Ms. Magazine's June 2020 Reads for the Rest of Us and Bustle's 23 Debut Books That Are Too Good To Ignore.
It is 1971. The fictional city of Bellport, Massachusetts, is in decline with an urban redevelopment project on the horizon expected to transform this dying factory town into a thriving economic center. This planned transformation has a profound effect on the residents who live in Bellport as their own personal transformations take place. Sydney Stallworth steps away from her fellowship and law studies at an elite university to support husband Malachi's dream of opening a business in the heart of the black community of his hometown, Bellport.
For Omar Bassari, an immigrant from Senegal, Bellport is where he will establish his drumming career and the launching pad from which he will spread African culture across the world, while trying to hold onto his marriage. Della Tolliver has built a fragile sanctuary in Bellport for herself, boyfriend Kwamé Rodriguez, and daughter Jasmine, a troubled child prone to nightmares and outbursts.
Tensions rise as the demolition date moves closer, plans for gentrification are laid out, and the pace of suspicious fires picks up. The residents find themselves at odds with a political system manipulating their lives and question the future of their relationships.
The Talking Drum explores intra-racial, class, and cross-cultural tensions, along with the meaning of community and belonging. Examining the profound impact gentrification has on people in many neighborhoods, and the way in which being uprooted affects the fabric of their families, friendships, and emotional well-being, the novel not only focuses on the immigrant experience, but the way in which the immigrant/African American neighborhood interface leads to friction and tension. This book thus provides a springboard to important discussions on race and class differences, on the treatment of immigrants, as well as the government's relationship and responsibility to society.
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About the Author
Lisa Braxton is an Emmy-nominated former television journalist, an essayist, short story writer, and novelist. She is a fellow of the Kimbilio Fiction Writers Program and was a finalist in the William Faulkner-William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition. She earned her MFA in creative writing from Southern New Hampshire University, her M.S. in journalism from Northwestern University, and her B.A. in Mass Media from Hampton University. Her stories have been published in anthologies and literary journals. She lives in the Boston, Massachusetts area.
"With an insider's eye for nuance, Lisa Braxton captures both the powerlessness and the resilience of communities threatened by urban development. At once tragic and hopeful, The Talking Drum is a heartfelt exploration of the deep roots of gentrification, brimming with vitality and richly drawn characters."
--Wil Medearis, author of Restoration Heights
"The Talking Drum, set in the early 1970's, deftly weaves the stories of three young, struggling couples living near Petite Africa, a community of African and West Indian immigrants. Issues of gentrification, race, gender politics, and class inform this propulsive story, but at its heart, this is a novel about who you love and who becomes your home. A moving and skillful debut."
--Stephanie Powell Watts, author of No One Is Coming To Save Us