Leaving / Edition 1

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Overview

"In 1959, newly-widowed and pregnant Ruby Washington and her thirteen-year-old half brother, Easton, board a bus in rural South Carolina, destined for Oakland, California. There, far from the violent events that forced her to flee her home, Ruby hopes to make a new life for her family." Ruby gives birth to a daughter, Lida, and strives to raise the girl and Easton. But as their Oakland neighborhood changes during the turbulent 1960s, the three are driven apart by forces that Ruby cannot control. Easton becomes involved with civil rights activism and the Black Panthers; Lida, keeping a hurtful family secret to herself, spirals into a cycle of dependency and denial. Finally, Lida's sons Love LeRoy and Li'l Pit must fend for themselves in the inhospitable streets of America, leaving one city for another, searching for a home.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
Original and deeply moving, Leaving tells the epic story of the African-American experience in this country through the lives of three generations in one black family struggling to make a better life for themselves and to overcome racial injustice. Opening in 1959, as 21-year-old Ruby Washington and her half brother, 13-year-old Easton, leave South Carolina on a bus to California, Dry's novel follows the family for more than 30 years. Readers watch, horrified, as poverty, gang warfare, violence, and drugs become a part of their lives, but the existence of these destructive influences is undeniably intertwined with love, hope, and perseverance. The stories of Ruby and her clan alternate with those of an anonymous narrator, who shares passages from black history books that vividly illustrate the difficult past that enshrouds both this and every African-American family.

Leaving is organized into short chapters that function as snapshots of events in the lives of the vibrant and memorable characters, and Dry's prose is creatively woven in a way that intensifies the reader's feelings for them. Nominated for the Pushcart Editor's Prize, Leaving is, ultimately, about just that -- leave-taking, and how it effects the lives of many generations in one's family. Some leavings are welcome, some heartbreaking, but "leaving" is the only means some have to survive and prevail. (Spring 2002 Selection)

From The Critics
....the story of this memorable set of characters is soft and delicate and, ultimately, uplifting. Leaving has its tense moments, but you continue reading not because the narrative propels you forward but because you care about these people whom Dry has drawn with an abundance of heartfelt compassion. He writes from a place of sympathy, and as a result, his well-drawn characters are never less than human even at their most abhorrent or pathetic.
Madison Smartt Bell
[Dry] has captured the African-American story from slavery time to the present, both in its panoramic scope and in its immediate and human detail.
Publishers Weekly
Dry covers plenty of political and historical ground in this epic, multigenerational debut novel, an earnest but derivative saga that chronicles the efforts of an African-American family to overcome the inequities of racial injustice. The story begins in 1959, when matriarch Ruby Washington travels from her rural South Carolina home to Oakland in search of a better life. But by leaving, she unknowingly sets off a cycle of poverty and violence that will mar the lives of her children. The most intriguing subplot is that of her charismatic half-brother, Easton, a potential civil rights leader who survives a difficult trip to attend the march at Selma, Ala., after getting involved with a white girl, only to get shot by police back in Oakland. The other major subplots are familiar: Ruby's daughter, Lida, falls victim to heroin, while Lida's son, Love, struggles to escape the clutches of the Oakland hip-hop gangs. Dry is a solid storyteller with plenty of compassion for his characters, but unfortunately they never rise above the level of stereotypes, and the author's decision to skip back and forth chronologically in his narrative rather than to relate each character's tale is distracting at best. The result is a generic retelling of a struggle that's been detailed with more flair, grit and verve by other writers. Agent, Victoria Sanders. (Mar.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
English instructor Dry has written a first novel of impressive scope and ability that examines three generations of an African American family from 1959 to 1994. Ruby Washington is introduced as a pregnant 21-year-old escaping with her 13-year-old stepbrother, Easton, from violence in South Carolina to her father's home in Oakland, CA. The lives of Ruby; Easton; Ruby's child, Lida; and Lida's two sons, Love and Li'l Pit, are detailed in alternating chapters, forcing the reader to pay close attention to time frames and characters. Leaving explores the transience of many African Americans, a bitter, lingering consequence of slavery. Dry's mature, sensitive prose presents a compelling portrayal of civil rights activism, educational aspirations, family disintegration, sexual and drug abuse, and gang life. The novel ends with Ruby's two young grandsons escaping to South Carolina. Expect more from this powerful writer, winner of the Joseph Henry Jackson Literary Award from the San Francisco Foundation and Intersection for the Arts. Recommended for both academic and public libraries and for all African American collections. Sarah Brechner, ProQuest, Louisville, KY Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A Pushcart Editor's Prize nominee traces three generations of a hard-luck African-American family striving for happiness and normalcy in Oakland, California.
From the Publisher
: "...the African-American story from slavery... to the present, both in its panoramic scope and in its immediate and human detail." —Madison Smartt Bell, author of Master of the Crossroads

"Written in a poetic prose that exposes the strength, frailty, and tenacity of human nature, and inserted into a challenging structure that stimulates the mind and soul, Leaving is a modern day classic."

- African American Literature Book Club

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312302870
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 4/9/2003
  • Edition description: First St. Martin's Griffin Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 464
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 1.04 (d)

Meet the Author

Richard Dry is an English instructor at Las Positas College and a former Senior Mental Health Assistant who worked with emotionally disturbed youth. Leaving won the Joseph Henry Jackson Award from the San Francisco Foundation and Intersection for the Arts and was nominated for The Pushcart Editor's Prize. Dry lives with his wife in El Cerrito, California.

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Read an Excerpt

PART ONE

Chapter 1A

On June 19, 1959, Ruby Washington traveled through Texas on a bus from Norma, South Carolina, to Oakland, California, with her thirteen-year-old half brother, Love Easton Childers. They sat across from the toilet, the septic fumes souring the air. Ruby's forehead rested against the hot window, and Easton, or Love E as Ruby alone could call him -- which she pronounced "Lovey," like an adoring wife -- slept on her loose shoulder, his mouth open, bouncing with the bus over the highway. Even in sleep, he brushed at his cheek with his fingertips as if shooing away a persistent fly.

Ruby pulled her brother's hand from his face and held it down in her lap. At twenty-one, she was a large woman. She'd always been big-boned with meaty hips and shoulders, a body shaped like an acoustic guitar. She watched a stretch of fence alongside the highway, small purple and yellow flowers growing against the lower rung of wire. A red-tailed hawk lifted itself from one of the posts and flew over the farmland, then circled smoothly above the houses and gentle hills. She followed the hawk with her eyes, tilting her head and feeling every turn of its wings as it sailed across all that luxurious space.

The bus hit a pothole and Ruby held both hands on her stomach. She waited, holding her breath. She'd never heard of a baby being shaken loose from a bumpy ride, but already her life had been filled with things she'd never heard of happening to anyone else. It wasn't even a baby yet, just a kidney bean inside her, but Ruby felt her as much as a full-grown baby girl. She imagined her with Ronald's dark eyes and his long, beautiful lashes. The sadness started to grip her again in her belly. Then the tightness of anger spread through her chest. There are certain things people never imagine living without, and faced with their loss, their minds make up ways to circumnavigate the truth of their senses, inventing conspiracies or forgotten clues. It had been so dark when they'd taken him away; she'd had to leave town before the funeral; the paper had talked about sending him to Charleston. She preferred to believe in false hope rather than despair. She had decided it was her God-given duty.

She looked out the window and searched for the hawk again. It was climbing higher into the clouds, and as she watched, it swooped out of sight. When it was gone, she realized how tightly her teeth were clamped together, and she forced herself to breathe out a steady, circular stream of air. She had to forget. For she feared that the tightness and pain of memory would suffocate her child right there inside her.

So she told a story. She put her hand on Easton's hair and spoke to him softly:

"Love E, didn I ever tell you 'bout dat boy who gon chasin de angels?"

Easton shook his head and kept his eyes closed. He spoke English only as Ronald had taught him, what he called "News English," but Ruby's stories in her own voice were like her soft lap to rest his mind into.

"Well he wasn no fool, dis boy. He foun hisself a fishin net an a fishin hook an he was waitin up in de tree for de angels to pass on by. He knew dem angels has to come by soon fo his mama who jus pass on dat night. Well de firs angel dat come on by fell right into his trap an he scoop him up wit his net. You listnin to me?"

"Mmm-hmm."

"Well de angel had to give him wishes. 'I know what you want,' say de angel. 'You want fo me to bring yo mama back to life.'

" 'No,' say de boy. 'I want a great big castle.' An wit a clap a lightnin he had a big ole castle. Den he aks for all de money in de worl, an wit a clap a lightnin a whole hill a money an gole rise up.

" 'Now dis is yo las wish,' say de angel. 'I know you got to want fo me to bring yo mama back to life.'

" 'No,' say de boy.

" 'Well what you want den? Tell me quick, so I can go on 'bout my regular business.'

" 'Well,' say de boy. 'I want you to make me White.'

" 'Make you White?'

" 'Yes.'

" 'You sure dat's what you want, more den bring yo mama back to life?'

" 'Yes,' say de boy. 'Now make me White.'

" 'Alright,' say de angel.

"De boy hold his arm up to his face to watch his skin turn. A clap a lightnin wen off, an he watch his arm fo his color to change. He waited, but nothin happen. De boy look up at de angel and yell, 'You got to keep yo promise, you an angel.' But den he see somethin movin round de corner of de house. Out from a bush step his mama, standin tall and mean as a mountain lion, walkin at de boy like she gonna et him up. Well de boy gone jus 'bout out a his mine.

" 'But you promised to make me White,' yell de boy. He jump out the tree and start to run away.

" 'I sure did,' say de angel. 'An jus look at yo'self, you as white as a sheet.' " Ruby shook her head and laughed, but Easton had fallen asleep again.

She looked at her half brother drooling a little on her sleeve. He was now her responsibility. And she was glad for it, for that distraction, and for someone who could remind her, even in his sleepy silence, that she was not alone with her memories.

She'd never left South Carolina before, never gone farther than fifty-three miles to Charleston -- and there only once, when she was seven, to see a parade for her real papa, who supposedly hadn't come home from the war in Europe. Just as she was getting to understand how there could be a parade for someone who didn't show up to the parade, she found out that he had come back after all, just not back to them. There was no telling what kind of man her real papa, Papa Corbet, would be, but if he beat Love E like Papa Samuel had, she promised herself that she'd take him away. They could always try to live on their own in California.

They pulled into the Oakland Greyhound station at ten in the morning. As Ruby sat on a bench and waited for the driver to fetch baggage, she unfolded a black bandanna in her lap, shielded her eyes from the sun with one hand, and counted it again: forty-seven dollars. All the money they'd earned from the last batch of dresses. Among the bills was a slip of paper with her father's address and a phone number for the West Oakland Army Base.

Easton played cards with a boy from the bus. Ignoring all the colored children, Easton had chosen to play with this White boy on the ride over, even though he hadn't known crazy eights and Easton hadn't known gin. They'd settled on hearts, which Easton hadn't known either, but the boy taught him well enough to win two out of five hands.

The boy's mother came over and picked her son up by the wrist.

"All right, that's plenty." She brushed off his pants, licked two of her fingers, wet back his hair, and pulled him away to stand among the adults. Easton wandered back to Ruby, who was watching for the trunk they'd brought.

"I thought your father was killed in the war," he said to his half-sister. He brushed his right cheek with his fingertips.

"I guess he ain't dead no more." She scooted over on the carved wooden bench and patted it for Easton to come sit next to her.

"Is your father big?" he asked.

"I don't recollect."

"Does he scold with a switch?"

"You find out soon enough."

Easton watched his friend leave with his mother and father.

"They ours," Ruby said, pointing to a dark green trunk. "Help me carry it." Inside the trunk were all the belongings they could fit for both of them, including the sewing machine. They carried the trunk out front and convinced a cabby to take them for a dollar.

On the drive, they passed through the heart of West Oakland. Seventh Street was alive with people -- colored people. Ruby had never seen so many finely dressed men, bustling along the street in their double-breasted jackets, and women with flowered hats (and some in fur coats!) standing in the doorways of shops just as if they owned them. Bright red trolley cars ran down the middle of the street in both directions. On either side were stores packed shoulder to shoulder in the brick buildings. Every shop had a striped awning. Long vertical signs jutted out from their facades with bold names announcing their services and proprietors: Borden's Candy and Ice Cream, Adeline Station Hotel, GLOW, Dine and Dance at Slim Jenkins' Supper Club. There were furniture stores and barbershops, beauty salons and soda fountains, all patronized by Negroes and, as far as she could tell, all run by Negroes too. There were Negro shoe-shine boys shining Negroes' shoes, white-jacketed Negro pharmacists in the pharmacy, and Negro lawyers sitting behind their desks in the window-front law offices; it was like the movies, but everybody had turned colored.

"Tremendous," Easton said, his favorite of Ronald's words. He pressed his finger up against the window. The produce bins on the sidewalk were piled high with oranges, striped watermelons, apples, grapes, plums, and peaches. "I bet those peaches came from South Carolina. Johnston is the peach capital of the world, you know?"

"That fruit might have come from China," said the cabby. "You're in a port town, man. You think it's fancy now, you should have seen it before the bridge. The ferries used to cross to the city from here, so everyone came on through town. The trains were running and we were still building ships over at Moore's. Roast beef and pork chops every night, man." He stretched his arm across the top of the seat as if relaxing after a good meal. "Then come the airplanes and there's no need for the Pullman porters either. Trust me, man, people don't spend the way they used to. Some of the shops already moved out."

He turned the cab off Seventh Street and headed away from the Southern Pacific train yards. "Then they went and built this monster-ugly contraption." He pointed up toward a freeway overpass. "Who can blame them wealthier folk for leaving, the way things are getting."

They turned one block north of the freeway. "This here is your street, man, Cranston Avenue -- still a nice street. Lots of these blocks were wiped out for the housing project. I know a woman who, to this day, still comes back and stares through the fence to where her house used to be." The cabby stopped and helped them unload. "They didn't touch certain streets, but even the ones spared can't never be the same. Lost that sense of security."

The cabby left Ruby and Easton staring at the house from the sidewalk, their green trunk in front of them. It was a Victorian, two stories high, with a cellar level below the stairs and a dark red coat of paint, like the Palmers' barn in Norma. Burgundy lace curtains hung in all the windows, and an American flag stuck out from the side of the black mailbox. Ruby looked down at the address on the paper and then up and down the block. The rest of the houses on the street were just as pretty and brilliant, each one painted its own colorful personality -- bright pink, yellow, turquoise.

An older White man dressed in all black with a black hat and long curly black hair streaming down his cheeks nodded to them, then walked up the steps to the house. He ate fleshy purple grapes and spit the seeds out onto the lawn as he opened the door and went inside.

"It looks like your father doesn't live here anymore," Easton said.

"Maybe he be de lanlord."

"Maybe we should go over to the army base."

"How we gonna get a cab here?"

"You can stay with the trunk and I'll run to that main street."

"Maybe dis ain't de right block."

The front door opened again and out stepped a thin, middle-aged man with mahogany-brown skin. He wore black horn-rimmed glasses and a brown derby cap and smoked a pipe.

"May I help you?"

"We jus lookin at your pretty house," said Ruby. Her heart pounded so fast that she rested her hand on her brother's shoulder to steady herself.

The man turned and looked up at his home. "Yep. This here's a GI Bill."

Easton considered the house carefully, as if he were going to draw it: the front two windows of the second story looked like square eyes facing the street and the bottom bay window like a mouth with the stairs as a tongue hanging out of the left side.

"How come you named your house Bill?" he asked.

"Well that's a good question. You hear that, Saul?" He turned and looked back into the house. "He asks why I named this house GI Bill."

"Well," a voice came from inside, "it's because the government gives you the house and then they send you a bill for it." The man with the pipe laughed.

"Well, he is a pretty house, sir," Ruby said. "Thank you for lettin us look at him."

"He's even prettier on the inside," the man said. "You come take a look."

Ruby and Easton didn't move. The man took off his cap and wiped his forehead with his arm.

"Entrez vous, mes enfants," he said. He turned and walked back into the house, leaving the door open. "And bring your trunk on in with you. We can't have your mama's trunk gettin all left out in the weather."

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Reading Group Guide

An epic, engrossing first novel of an African-American family, its dispossession and regeneration.

Leaving begins in 1959, when newly-widowed and pregnant Ruby Washington and her half brother, Easton, board a bus in rural South Carolina destined for California. Their lives and the lives of Ruby's daughter Lida and her children Love and Li'l Pit are played out against the turbulent backdrop of the 1960s and the drug-infested neighborhoods of the 1980s and 1990s. Ruby and Lida struggle to embrace each other without disturbing the family secret that eventually drives Lida into prostitution; Easton grows into a charismatic community leader without control over his own inner world; and Love attempts to rescue his brother from the inhospitable streets of America.

Leaving places, leaving family, and leaving the prisms of racism and poverty-this debut novel is a remarkable synthesis of history and intimately-observed everyday life.

Discussion Questions

1. How does the structure of Leaving contribute to the themes explored in the novel?

2. What do the characters attempt to leave in this novel other than physical places? Can the act of leaving be applied to historical and psychological contexts?

3. To what degree are the characters successful or unsuccessful at leaving?

4. What role do the slave narratives and historical documents play in the book? Look at each Santa Rita chapter and discuss the relationship it has to the development of the characters, plot, and themes?

5. What does the intersection of the personal and the historical say about the confluence of individual and societal responsibility?

6. Is the race of the authorsignificant? Why or why not? Does the same apply to gender?

7. What issues about relationships and self-knowledge apply to the human condition regardless of race?

8. Consider a particular passage in which Dry uses description to create emotional impact. How is emotion conveyed through physical detail?

9. How does Lida's relationship with Ruby parallel Love Easton Childer's relationship with Elise?

10. How does Love LeRoy's relationship to his brother, Li'l Pit, reflect his notions of responsibility and manhood?

11. What is the connection between Love Easton's sense of self and his relationships with female characters?

12. What differences exist between Love and Li'l Pit and how do they contribute to their development?

13. What differences and similarities exist between Joyce and Love?

14. Who is the person reading and speaking in the Santa Rita chapters? What significance does it have?

15. How do the characters undermine traditional notions of good and evil?

16. In what ways do the epigrams reflect themes in the novel?


In His Own Words

What was the inspiration for Leaving?

The most obvious inspiration for my book was my work as a Senior Mental Health Assistant with severely emotionally disturbed kids, both in a group home and in a residential day treatment center. In the process of working at this institution, I was punched, kicked, spat upon, and had my nose broken. However, after more positive contact, I came to care about the kids who unfailingly had one thing in common: a family history of abuse or neglect. Through my interactions with the children and my study of their personal histories, I came to appreciate the forces that went into forging such frightened and angry human beings. I wanted to tell their stories, and, being that there was a disproportionate number of African-American children in this facility, a story grew from a seed that had been planted in me a long time ago.

When I was young, I had been cared for by a Black woman named Ruby. She was my closest friend and she thought of me, I found out when visiting her siblings in South Carolina years after her death, as her own son. She would literally say to them, "Look at what my son Richard sent me from California." In addition, my mother had a number of Black friends in Philadelphia, where I was raised, and a number of them took a liking to me. I remember, in particular, two men with whom we spent many hours in Ritten House Square: Mellow and Shawn. It was the late sixties and I slowly became aware of the segregation of the races and the economic disparity. I recall becoming acutely aware of certain restaurants and stores that had few if any Black customers. I noticed how workers in subservient positions were commonly Black while their supervisors were White.

When I try to account for my outrage, I think about my own experiences as a long-haired little boy who was often treated like a girl. Or perhaps the ensuing divorce of my parents created in me an empathy for those who were treated unfairly or seemed to be victims of circumstance.

As I traveled the country with my single mother, living in half a dozen states before I was 8, I was always struck by the disparity between Black and White neighborhoods and also fascinated by the cultural differences that seemed to be borne of segregation. My work with the homeless and later with emotionally disturbed kids was no doubt an outgrowth of these formative years. I was driven to understand why such inequality existed and researched the historical factors linking slavery and the present circumstances of many African-Americans - disproportionately living in poverty, in prison, and in pain. By the time I became a college instructor, working in a program with African-American students, I became aware of the large segment of our population, of all ethnicities, with little sense of these historical factors. But I was also aware that textbooks were of no interest to most people. I was driven to dramatize this territory, and by creating composite characters from friends, historical figures, and the children with whom I'd worked, I wove together a story I believed would allow my readers and myself to experience the psychological and social inheritance of slavery and bigotry.

Who are your favorite authors? Which authors have influenced your book?

My favorite authors, all of whom influenced this book in some way - in style, content, or aesthetic - include André Malraux, John Steinbeck, Toni Morrison, Michael Ondaatje, Charles Dickens, George Orwell, Ursula K. LeGuin, Richard Wright, Milan Kundera, Flannery O'Connor, Alice Munro, Jonathan Kozal, John Irving, Claude Brown, Richard Bausch, Richard Bach, James Baldwin, Ingmar Bergman, Eugene O'Neil, Sophocles, Harold Pintor, GB Shaw, Robert Frost, Langston Hughes, T.S. Eliot, ee cummings, Allen Ginsberg, Sharon Olds, Robert Hunter, Joni Mitchell, and Bob Dylan.

Additional authors who influenced this book include Ralph Ellison, Booker T. Washington, Frederick Douglas, Malcolm X (through Alex Haley), Alice Walker, Elaine Brown, Eldrige Cleaver, Kweisi Mfume, and Léon Bing, among others.

About the Author

Richard Dry is an English instructor for the Las Positas-Chabot Community College District and a former Mental Health Assistant working with emotionally disturbed youth. This novel won the Joseph Henry Jackson Award from the San Francisco Foundation and Intersection for the Arts and was nominated for the Pushcart editors' Prize. Richard Dry lives with his wife in California.

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 12, 2007

    Definitely Food for Thought

    This book is definitely worth reading it gives you the raw, nitty gritty of the underbelly of American Black Society. It is not pretentious, it does not gloss over any facts-it's real, it's raw, and it will definitely leave room for ample emotion. I recommend it-it's a good read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 22, 2003

    OUTSTANDING NOVEL

    I gravitated towards this book, initially because of the many good things I had heard about it. This book sucked me in immediately and size did not matter, until the end when I wanted it to continue. Richard Dry captures the 'black experience' in America better than anyone ever has in the past. It is not a preachy, blame the white man, novel, but a FACTUAL, ACTUAL account of the travesties and inhumane conditions blacks have and continue to endure in the 'land of the free'. At times I was angered and saddened over particular events that I had never heard of. But as an AA woman I gathered the strength I inherited from my people to face the truth. Something has sparked in me after completing this book,a new spirit maybe? A new awakening? 'Leaving' should become REQUIRED reading for all students in high school. EXCELLENT WORK MR. RICHARD DRY ! Anyone who reads this book, owes it to the public to spread the word. PICK THIS ONE UP! It is a classic!

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