Lost in the City

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The nation's capital that serves as the setting for the stories in Edward P. Jones's prizewinning collection, Lost in the City, lies far from the city of historic monuments and national politicians. Jones takes the reader beyond that world into the lives of African American men and women who work against the constant threat of loss to maintain a sense of hope. From "The Girl Who Raised Pigeons" to the well-to-do career woman awakened in the night by a phone call that will take her on a journey back to the past, ...

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The nation's capital that serves as the setting for the stories in Edward P. Jones's prizewinning collection, Lost in the City, lies far from the city of historic monuments and national politicians. Jones takes the reader beyond that world into the lives of African American men and women who work against the constant threat of loss to maintain a sense of hope. From "The Girl Who Raised Pigeons" to the well-to-do career woman awakened in the night by a phone call that will take her on a journey back to the past, the characters in these stories forge bonds of community as they struggle against the limits of their city to stave off the loss of family, friends, memories, and, ultimately, themselves.

Critically acclaimed upon publication, Lost in the City introduced Jones as an undeniable talent, a writer whose unaffected style is not only evocative and forceful but also filled with insight and poignancy.

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Editorial Reviews

Washington Times
“Poignant. . . . Gripping. . . . [Jones] has a careful ear for dialogue.”
USA Today
“[A] powerful…generous…collection.”
New York Times
“A powerful fiction debut.”
Jonathan Yardley
“Original and arresting. . . . [Jones’s] stories will touch chords of empathy and recognition in all readers.”
Terry McMillan
“Edward P. Jones has a commanding voice. His collection of stories is arresting.”
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Young and old struggle for spiritual survival against the often crushing obstacles of the inner city in these 14 moving stories of African American life in Washington, D.C. Traveling street by street through the nation's capital, Jones introduces a wide range of characters, each of whom has a distinct way of keeping the faith. Betsy Ann Morgan, ``The Girl Who Raised Pigeons,'' finds inspiration in the birds she cares for on the roof of her apartment building. Middle-aged Vivian Slater leads a hymn-singing group in ``Gospel.'' The narrator of ``The Store'' labors to build up a neighborhood grocery; in ``His Mother's House,'' Joyce Moses collects photographs and cares for the expensive home her young son has bought her with his crack earnings. Depicting characters who strive to preserve fragile bonds of family and community in a violent, tragic world, Jones writes knowingly of their nontraditional ways of caring for one another and themselves. His insightful portraits of young people and frank, unsensationalized depictions of horrifying social ills make this a poignant and promising first effort. (June)
Library Journal
As Academy Award-nominated director John Singleton said of the violence in his film Boyz N the Hood , ``It's what's goin' down in America.'' Jones addresses similar sociological realities in his collection of 14 short stories, writing affectingly of African American life in our nation's capital. This is not the Washington of monuments, tourists, and the federal government; rather, it is the darker side of the city. Jones describes the harsh realities of life that exist for some African Americans in our society: a young aspiring singer shot dead by her boyfriend (the father of her child), a young man thieving to earn a living, a daughter desperately searching for the ``why'' in her mother's stabbing death. Although these experiences will be unfamiliar to many readers, Jones instills humanity in his characters and stories. He depicts people struggling to overcome adversity and survive in a dangerous world. For popular collections.-- Kimberly G. Allen, National Assn. of Home Builders Lib., Washington, D.C.
School Library Journal
YA-- In these 14 stories set in black neighborhoods of Washington, DC in the '60s and '70s, Jones establishes a mood and a specific sense of place, but he also presents universal hopes and aspirations. Beautifully and economically written, the selections are filled with revealing details of poverty and degradation, and yet the protagonists are survivors who look to find hope and meaning in their lives. The haunting, grainy black-and-white photographs add to the real, though slightly hazy, atmosphere and reveal the underlying grit portrayed so evocatively in the prose. A more-than-worthwhile addition. --Susan H. Woodcock, Potomac Library, Woodbridge, VA
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060795283
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 11/30/2004
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.64 (d)

Meet the Author

Edward P. Jones

Edward P. Jones, the New York Times bestselling author, has been awarded the Pulitzer Prize, for fiction, the National Book Critics Circle award, the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, and the Lannan Literary Award for The Known World; he also received a MacArthur Fellowship in 2004. His first collection of stories, Lost in the City, won the PEN/Hemingway Award and was short listed for the National Book Award. His second collection, All Aunt Hagar’s Children, was a finalist for the Pen/Faulkner Award. He has been an instructor of fiction writing at a range of universities, including Princeton. He lives in Washington, D.C.


Edward P. Jones grew up in Washington, D.C., where his mother worked as a dishwasher and hotel maid to support Jones and his brother and sister. Though she couldn't read or write herself, Jones's mother encouraged her son to study, and eventually a Jesuit priest who knew Jones suggested he apply for a scholarship at the College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts. There, Jones discovered the odd fact that in the antebellum South, there had been free black people who owned black slaves.

"It was a shock that there were black people who would take part in a system like that," he later told a Boston Globe interviewer. "Why didn't they know better?" That question stayed with Jones for more than 20 years and would eventually inspire his first novel, The Known World.

After graduating from Holy Cross with a degree in English, Jones moved back to Washington, D.C., and began writing short stories, aiming to create a portrait of his city in the mode of James Joyce's Dubliners. He attended writing seminars, then earned an M.F.A. in creative writing from the University of Virginia, but he felt that neither writing nor teaching was a reliable enough source of income. He took a day job as a business writer for an Arlington, Virgina, nonprofit, and held it for almost 19 years -- during which he published his first short-story collection, Lost in the City, which was nominated for a National Book Award. He also began planning his first novel, composing and revising chapters entirely in his head. Jones had just taken a five-week vacation to start writing the book when he found out he was being laid off, so he lived on severance pay and unemployment during the few months it took him to finish his first draft.

The Known World was published in 2003, 11 years after Lost in the City. "With hard-won wisdom and hugely effective understatement, Mr. Jones explores the unsettling, contradiction-prone world of a Virginia slaveholder who happens to be black," wrote Janet Maslin in The New York Times Book Review. Jonathan Yardley of the Washington Post Book World called the book "the best new work of American fiction to cross my desk in years."

Though some reviewers have praised the author's impressive research, Jones insists he made almost everything up. During the 10 years he spent thinking about his novel, he accumulated shelves full of books about slavery, but ultimately he read none of them, choosing instead to write the book that had already taken shape in his mind. The depth and detail of Jones's fictional Manchester County has been compared with William Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County; Martha Woodroof of National Public Radio also noted similarities to Dickens, in that Jones spins "a densely populated, sprawling story built around a morally bankrupt institution."

Despite all the attention he's earned, Jones seems unwilling to assume the role of celebrity writer. "If you write a story today, and you get up tomorrow and start another story, all the expertise that you put into the first story doesn't transfer over automatically to the second story," he explained in an online chat on Washingtonpost.com . "You're always starting at the bottom of the mountain. So you're always becoming a writer. You're never really arriving."

Good To Know

Unable to find a full-time job after college, Jones was on the verge of borrowing $15 from his sister for a bus ticket to Brooklyn, where she lived, when he got word that Essence magazine was publishing his first story for $400. A job at the American Association for the Advancement of Science enabled him to stay in Washington, D.C., where he continued writing the stories for his collection Lost in the City.

Jones has never owned a car, commuting instead by public transportation. "I don't want to own something that you can't take into your apartment at night," he explained in an interview with The Washington Post.

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    1. Hometown:
      Washington, D.C.
    1. Date of Birth:
      October 5, 1950
    2. Place of Birth:
      Washington, D.C.
    1. Education:
      B.A., College of the Holy Cross, 1972; M.F.A., University of Virginia, 1981

Table of Contents

The Girl Who Raised Pigeons 9
The First Day 33
The Night Rhonda Ferguson Was Killed 39
Young Lions 61
The Store 83
An Orange Line Train to Ballston 111
The Sunday Following Mother's Day 123
Lost in the City 147
His Mother's House 157
A Butterfly on F Street 182
Gospel 189
A New Man 207
A Dark Night 223
Marie 235
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First Chapter

Lost in the City

The Girl Who Raised Pigeons

Her father would say years later that she had dreamed that part of it, that she had never gone out through the kitchen window at two or three in the morning to visit the birds. By that time in his life he would have so many notions about himself set in concrete. And having always believed that he slept lightly, he would not want to think that a girl of nine or ten could walk by him at such an hour in the night without his waking and asking of the dark, Who is it? What's the matter?

But the night visits were not dreams, and they remained forever as vivid to her as the memory of the way the pigeons' iridescent necklaces flirted with light. The visits would begin not with any compulsion in her sleeping mind to visit, but with the simple need to pee or to get a drink of water. In the dark, he went barefoot out of her room, past her father in the front room conversing in his sleep, across the kitchen and through the kitchen window, out over the roof a few steps to the coop. It could be winter, it could be summer, but the most she ever got was something she called pigeon silence. Sometimes she had the urge to unlatch the door and go into the coop, or, at the very least, to try to reach through the wire and the wooden slats to stroke a wing or a breast, to share whatever the silence seemed to conceal. But she always kept her hands to herself, and after a few minutes, as if relieved, she would go back to her bed and visit the birds again in sleep.

What Betsy Ann Morgan and her father Robert did agree on was that the pigeons began with the barber Miles Patterson. Her father had known Miles long before the girl was born, before the thought to marry her mother had even crossed his mind. The barber lived in a gingerbread brown house with his old parents only a few doors down from the barbershop he owned on the corner of 3rd and L streets, Northwest. On some Sundays, after Betsy Ann had come back from church with Miss Jenny, Robert, as he believed his wife would have done, would take his daughter out to visit with relatives and friends in the neighborhoods just beyond Myrtle Street, Northeast, where father and daughter lived.

One Sunday, when Betsy Ann was eight years old, the barber asked her again if she wanted to see his pigeons, "my children." He had first asked her some three years before. The girl had been eager to see them then, imagining she would see the same frightened creatures who waddled and flew away whenever she chased them on sidewalks and in parks. The men and the girl had gone into the backyard, and the pigeons, in a furious greeting, had flown up and about the barber. "Oh, my babies," he said, making kissing sounds. "Daddy's here." In an instant, Miles's head was surrounded by a colorful flutter of pigeon life. The birds settled on his head and his shoulders and along his thick, extended arms, and some of the birds looked down meanly at her. Betsy Ann screamed, sending the birds back into a flutter, which made her scream even louder. And still screaming, she ran back into the house. The men found her in the kitchen, her head buried in the lap of Miles's mother, her arms tight around the waist of the old woman, who had been sitting at the table having Sunday lunch with her husband.

"Buster," Miles's mother said to him, "you shouldn't scare your company like this. This child's bout to have a heart attack."

Three years later Betsy Ann said yes again to seeing the birds. In the backyard, there was again the same fluttering chaos, but this time the sight of the wings and bodies settling about Miles intrigued her and she drew closer until she was a foot or so away, looking up at them and stretching out her arm as she saw Miles doing. "Oh, my babies,"the barber said ... "Your daddy's here."One of the birds landed on Betsy Ann's shoulder and another in the palm of her hand. The gray one in her hand looked dead at Betsy Ann,blinked, then swiveled his head and gave the girl a different view of a radiant black necklace. "They tickle," she said to her father, who stood back.

For weeks and weeks after that Sunday, Betsy Ann pestered her father about getting pigeons for her. And the more he told her no, that it was impossible, the more she wanted them. He warned her that he would not do anything to help her care for them, he warned her that all the bird-work meant she would not ever again have time to play with her friends, he warned her about all the do-do the pigeons would let loose. But she remained a bulldog about it, and he knew that she was not often a bulldog about anything. In the end he retreated to the fact that they were only renters in Jenny and Walter Creed's house.

"Miss Jenny likes birds," the girl said. "Mr. Creed likes birds, too."

"People may like birds, but nobody in the world likes pigeons."

"Cept Mr. Miles," she said.

"Don't make judgments bout things with what you know bout Miles." Miles Patterson, a bachelor and, some women said, a virgin, was fifty-six years old and for the most part knew no more about the world than what he could experience in newspapers or on the radio and in his own neighborhood, beyond which he rarely ventured. "There's ain't nothing out there in the great beyond for me," Miles would say to people who talked with excitement about visiting such and such a place ...

Lost in the City. Copyright © by Edward P. Jones. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 6 )
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 7 of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 3, 2011

    Not For Me

    Quite honestly, I'm not really one to enjoy compilations of short stories-I tend to avoid them in the classroom and I rarely read them for fun because I don't care for them. Needless to say, I really didn't care for this book. The short stories weren't interesting to me, and I personally found a majority of them inappropriate. Perhaps I'm old fashioned, but I don't think that every story needs references to sex or cussing to validate it, and I find myself becoming uncomfortable when I read stories like these.

    These stories were frustrating for me in that many of them just seem to end with no conclusion. They read in the same fashion as Flannery O'Conner, and as I wasn't a fan of her writing either, it makes sense that these short stories also wouldn't be for me. I do understand the premise for these short stories as Jones is writing what he knows, but I personally need something much more upbeat. One star.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 20, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    The Voice of Every City but Definitely DC

    This is an awesome read of short stories about living in a city; specifically DC but anyone who grew up or lives in a city can relate to the landscape, the rich and interesting characters and the struggles of life. I would totally recommend this read coupled with All Aunt Hagar's Children; yes, they are connected.

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    Posted July 22, 2013

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    Posted March 5, 2011

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    Posted November 21, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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    Posted January 10, 2010

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 31, 2010

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