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47th Street Black

by Bayo Ojikutu

The prize-winning debut of an incendiary new voice in contemporary American fiction, 47th Street Black is the story of JC and Mookie, whose rise in the gangster-driven ghettos of Chicago is as swift as it is brutal. In the early sixties, 47th street is the heart of black Chicago, where recent migrants from the South come to move up in the world. JC and Mookie are high school dropouts, playing stickball in the street when they stumble upon the dead body of the area's black liaison to the mafia. Where others would run, Mookie sees opportunity, and in no time he and JC are working for Salvie, the local boss. Within a year, they are the most infamous figures on 47th Street, best friends and partners with flashy cars, clothes, and women. As they alternate telling their stories, the balance of power shifts: smooth, charismatic Mookie becomes the de facto leader and small, violent JC the enforcer--roles that send JC to jail for a murder they commit together. In the 15 years he's away, JC gains an education and a resentment he can't control, while Mookie gains power over the entire South Side. By the time JC is paroled, both the neighborhood and the two men's lives are on an inexorable path to an explosive confrontation with simmering injustice.

Free Burning: A Novel

by Bayo Ojikutu

Tommie Simms was supposed to be the community hope, the young man from the neighborhood who made good. He attended a state university, married a respectable woman, and landed a position at a white-collar insurance firm. Watching over Chicago from the thirty-third floor of his company's downtown high rise, Tommie ignores the gnawing sense that he doesn't belong on this path--and that in a blink of an eye, he could stray from its given destination. And then he does . . . Soon Tommie is laid off, and he begins to see himself as just another faceless entity on the city's fringes. After each fruitless job interview, Tommie's wife withdraws from him further, and in the mirror he faces the reflection of failure his family never intended for him. Stymied by rejection and mounting debt, Tommie is seduced into peddling dope as his best opportunity to define himself and to provide for those he loves. But a corporate job is no preparation for hustling, and when Tommie finds himself on the wrong side of a crooked cop, everyone wants a piece of him: his street-hustling cousins, the police, friends, loan sharks, even a panderer from his white-collar past. In order to break free, Tommie must find a way to dig himself out of a deepening hole, before the city buries him.

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