The Portable Promised Land: Stories

The Portable Promised Land: Stories

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by Touré

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This inspired collection of stories is cause for celebration. With stunning language and dazzling characters, Toure introduces Soul City -- a wholly imagined utopia where magic happens and black is beautiful. In a broad range of characterization and styles, "The Portable Promised Land" is filled with lighthearted humor and heavyhearted issues. Toure challenges form


This inspired collection of stories is cause for celebration. With stunning language and dazzling characters, Toure introduces Soul City -- a wholly imagined utopia where magic happens and black is beautiful. In a broad range of characterization and styles, "The Portable Promised Land" is filled with lighthearted humor and heavyhearted issues. Toure challenges form and what's considered politically correct in stories like "The Sad, Sweet Story of Sugar Lips Shinehot" and "Afrolexicolgy: Today's Bi-Annual List of the Top 50 Words in African America.""The Portable Promised Land" marks the entrance of a new and wildly compelling voice to fiction.

Editorial Reviews
Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
The Portable Promised Land is a brash, bawdy, and smart collection of short takes on a half-imaginary place called, "Soul City." The territory of Touré's fiction is not so much a world as a state of mind where racial injustice is balanced by an overriding sense of screwball humor, and where the language of the street, the church, and the beauty parlor acquires poetic status.

Touré's dispatches are notes from a reporter's beat covering the wonderland of African-American life -- and his notebook is bursting at the seams. From the fate of a preacher who loves his flock a little too much to a visit to a "breakup ceremony" that turns ugly, Touré presents captivating portraits of the modern world that range from the sly to the mordant to the out-and-out hilarious. Some of the pieces read like extended jokes or stand-up routines -- others are linked short stories morphing into double-edged allegories.

Whatever the genre, Touré writes with an overwhelming love for the language of black America and for the musical possibilities of English in general. But his masterstroke is "The Sad, Sweet Story of Sugarlips Shinehot." This moving and funny fable -- in which a jazz trumpeter is blessed with a selective kind of blindness -- combines a droll take on Ralph Ellison's classic Invisible Man, with a nod to Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon. Touré's vision of Soul City is at once affectionate and angry, flippant and committed, contemplative and provocative. These are stories to change the way we look at the outrageous, absurd, troubled, yet fascinating place we call America. (Summer 2002 Selection)

Publishers Weekly
Toure takes a measured yet whimsical look at the ups and (more often) downs of modern African-American life and culture in his successful debut collection of stories, lists and essays, most of which use racial stereotypes as their jumping-off point. He gets things off to a funny start with "The Steviewondermobile," a snappy yarn about a resident of the mythical Soul City named Huggy Bear Jackson, who installs in his Cadillac a state-of-the-art sound system that will play only the blind soul singer's tunes. "Attack of the Love Dogma" takes a pointedly satiric tack as it portrays a detox center where black men are slowly weaned of their "Blonde Obsession," while "A Hot Time at the Church of Kentucky Fried Souls..." finds one Daddy Love setting up a chapel in an abandoned restaurant formerly run by "that good ol neo-massa Colonel Sanders." Tour displays a fine eye and ear for language in a pair of word-based conceits, "Afrolexicology Today's Bi-Annual List of the Top 50 Words in African-America" and "The African-American Aesthetics Hall of Fame." His over-the-top sense of humor serves him well, although occasionally his sharp but somewhat hyperactive style gets away from him, most notably in a trilogy of stories about a female hip-hopper-cum-ghetto guerrilla named the Black Widow that degenerate into facile diatribes on racial politics. A few missteps aside, this respected essayist and Rolling Stone editor should find an enthusiastic audience for his lively brand of social commentary. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
This collection of stories, vignettes, and essays is a sharp celebration of black urban life, filled with characters at once surreal and familiar. Toure's Soul City includes people like Huggy Bear and his Steviewondermobile, an automotive expression of his love of Stevie Wonder's music; Reverend Daddy Love, a preacher who loves some of his congregation more than others; and the Jacksons, whose son has been possessed by every black stereotype imaginable. But this book is more than a collection of stories about eccentric residents. There are commentaries on black language (Afrolexicology), rituals for couples breaking up, jazzy tone poems about one-night stands, and tough-love therapy for black men who insist on dating blondes. In this debut collection, Rolling Stone contributing editor Tour has given life in Soul City a comic edge, revealing the humor and absurdities behind the seriousness of race. Even the author's note and acknowledgments are fun to read. Highly recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 3/15/02.] Ellen Flexman, Indianapolis-Marion Cty. P.L., Indianapolis, IN Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Hip-hop culture gets both glorified and sent up, sometimes in the same sentence, in a debut collection by essayist and Rolling Stone contributing editor Toure. Cruising between real New York and mythical Soul City, riffing on real stuff and craziness, Toure takes on bogus preachers, television, Black Panthers, Black American princesses, white idiocy, dreams of glory, prep schools, ebonics, clubs, cutting-edge chic, and hundreds of other bits and pieces of contemporary urban life and death in 24 mostly fast-moving pieces-pieces that are usually stories but sometimes just wild long lists. Perhaps writing about ghetto fabulousness demands excess, and most of the time it works. Opening with the lovely Steviewondermobile, Toure follows Huggy Bear Jackson as he smooths through downtown Soul City in his 1983 Cadillac Custom Supreme convertible with its $25,000 Harmon Kardon sound system, followed by his posse of four in their own cars, filling the air with Stevie Wonder. The superpowerful electronics of the sound system are more than the aged car can take, and the show grinds to a halt regularly until a fresh battery can take over. Huggy Bear is just one part of the parade that fills Freedom Avenue, taking music to the streets, but he's a star. As is the Right Revren Daddy Love, pastor of the Church of Kentucky Fried Souls, oversized, oversexed and, when he starts flying, over the congregation. Equally stellar is the Black Widow, a DJ and black power queen who started off as just another Park Avenue preppie. William Safire disciples will revel in Afrolexicology Today's Bi-Annual List of the Top 50 Words in African-America, and hipsters-in-training will find help in Blackmanwalkin and The African-American Aesthetics Hall of Fame, or 101 Elements of Blackness (Things That'll Make You Say : Yes! That There's Some Really Black Shit!). Progressive English teachers are sure to get mileage out of the thematic linkage provided by Satan, who shows up in various disguises. Agreeably shocking, sharply perceptive, quite funny.

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Every day downtown Soul City saw Huggy Bear Jackson smooth by in that pristine money-green 1983 Cadillac Cutlass Supreme custom convertible with gold rims, neon-green lights underneath, and a post-state-of-the-art Harmon Kardon system with sixteen speakers, wireless remote, thirty-disc changer, and the clearest sound imaginable. If during the recording of the song the guitarist had plucked the wrong string, he could hear it. If someone had coughed in the control room, he could hear it. If the singers were thinking, he could hear it. Everyone in Soul City waved as he crept slowly by, cruising at fifteen miles an hour or less, passed by joggers, and as he turtled into the distance, people said with awe and condescension, "There goes the Steviewondermobile."

Yes, Huggy Bear's ride elicited an encyclopedia of emotions because, despite an eye-paining beauty that would've put the vehicle directly into the African-American Aesthetics Hall of Fame, there were significant problems with the ride.

First off, he drove slowly because he had to. No matter how long and hard he pressed the gas the thing would not go above twenty-five miles an hour. Also, the electrical system was so taxed by the sound system that there were brownouts when the car would only go ten or fifteen miles an hour, and blackouts where the car would just stop cold, maybe right in the middle of Freedom Ave or Funky Boulevard. And that $25,000 sound system only played songs by Stevie Wonder. He'd had it built like that. There was a special sensor they sold at Soul City Systems and when you put in a non-Stevie record it was promptly spit out. He didn't know if records that Stevie had written and not performed or records such as "We Are the World" on which Stevie had had a tiny part would work. He didn't ask and he never tried.

The ride had attained its vehicular elegance and superior sound because Huggy Bear had put a bank-draining amount of cash into it. It had massive problems because he was very picky about what he spent his money on. If the carburetor was falling apart and needed only $600 to be like new and Dolemite Jones from Soul City Systems called and said he had a new subwoofer, the best ever made, just $2,000, you can guess what he chose to do. Huggy Bear was what your momma would call "nigga-rich." Someone with, say, a multithousand-dollar neck chain and nothing in the bank. Someone with a hot Lexus who lives with they moms.

So he cruised with Stevie every day. Stevie fit every mood. If he felt upbeat and wanted to groove, he pushed button number one and Stevie preached: "Very supa-stish-uuus..." If he felt sad it was number seventeen: "Lately I have had the strangest feel-ing...." When he had his sweet, late mother on his mind he soothed her memory with number twelve: "You are the sunshine of my life..." When thinking politics, number seventythree: "Living for the City." Every June first, as the sun sang out and the days got hot, number 129: "Ma cher-ee a-mour..." When he started a new relationship, number ninety-seven: "Send her your love...." Yes, he loved Stevie's entire catalog, even the 80s shlock like Jungle Fever, loved it with the unquestioning devotion the faithful reserve for their God. Huggy Bear was a devout Stevie-ite. To him Stevie was a wise, gifted, mystical being, most definitely from another planet and of another consciousness, part eternal child, part social crusader, part sappy sentimentalist, an unabashed lover of God and women and all things sweet and just. When he cruised down Freedom Ave blasting Stevie, he was taking lessons on life. He was meditating. He was praying.

Each Sunday morning Huggy Bear rose with the sun to wash, wax, buff, and pamper his cathedral on wheels. He walked to the gas station to fill his portable can (walking ended up being faster). And then he sat and chose the day's album, carefully matching it with his mood, spending as much time on this as many women take to get dressed for a big night. When he found the perfect album he laid back, way back, and placed the first finger of his right hand on the bottom of the wheel so that his hand rested between his legs (there was something phallic about it, but he chose not to follow that line of thought). Then he eased away from the curb and cruised into downtown Soul City and onto Freedom Ave, looking for his homeboys Mojo Johnson, Boozoo, and Groovy Lou. They were all Stevie-ites and they all had they own little chapels. Together they would turtle down Freedom Ave, all four rides blasting the same Stevie song at the same time.

It was essential to ride down Freedom Ave in a pack on a Soul City Sunday afternoon because on a Soul City Sunday afternoon Freedom Ave was awash in music. Everyone in Soul City was devout, but not everyone was a Stevie-ite. At last count there were at least twenty religions in Soul City besides Stevieism: Milesism, Marleyites, Coltranity, the Sly Stonish, the Ellingtonians, Michael Jacksonism, Wu-Tangity, Princian, Rakimism, Mingusity, Nina Simonian, P-Funkist, James Brownism, Billie Holidayites, Monkist, Hendrixity, the Jiggas, the Arethites, Satchmoian, Barry Whiters, and Gayeity. Soul City was a place where God entered through the speakers and love was measured in decibels. So Huggy Bear smoothed down Freedom Ave looking for his crew. He passed Hype Jackson, DJ Cucumber Slice, and Reverend Hallelujah Jones, passed the barbershop, the rib shack, the Phat Farm, the Roscoe's House of Chicken and Waffles, the Baptist church, the weave spot, the Drive-Thru Liquor Store, passed Cadillac Jackson talking to Dr. Noble Truette, chief planner and architect of Soul City, and passed Fulcrum Negro's Certified Authentic Negrified Artifacts, a strange little shop, more like an open closet really, filled with his unique antiques: a pair of Bojangles dancin shoes, a guitar played by Robert Johnson, a sax that belonged to Bird, some of Jacob Lawrence's paintbrushes, Sugar Ray Robinson's gloves, a Richard Pryor crack pipe, and all sorts of things from slavery, including actual chains, whips, and mouth bits, as well as Harriet Tubman's running shoes, Frederick Douglass's comb, and Nat Turner's Bible. Purportedly, the stuff had magic residue left over by the Gods who'd handled them, but no one ever found out because Fulcrum Negro refused to sell anything to anyone, even if they had more than ample money.

The streets were more crowded than normal because the Soul City Summertime Fair was on. There was free food, step shows, dominoes, spades, and a shit-talkin clown with a small pillow for a nose who walked up and dissed you, playfully but pointedly, persistently talking about your clothes, your ears, and your momma until you buried a stiff fist right in that big old honker. Then he laughed and thanked you and walked away. And then there were the contests everyone loved. The Neck- Rolling Contest in which contestants were judged on how fast they could whip their head around, how wide of a circle they could make, and how many consecutive 360s they could pull off. Contests for sexiest lip-licker, most ornate Jesus piece, best pimp stroll, who could keep a hat on their head while cocked at the sharpest angle, and everyone's favorite, the Nut-Grabbing Contest, a slow-motion Negrified marathon really, wherein contestants simply hold their nuts as long as possible. The city record holder, Emperor Jones, had stood there holding his nuts for six days, fourteen hours, and twenty-eight minutes straight. He slept standing up, his right hand securely gripping his nuts. Incredible. Sadly, this was the first year in many that there would be no CPT Contest because the Summertime Fair organizers had finally given in to reason: despite immense anticipation each year, the contest never ever really got off the ground because none of the contestants ever arrived before the contest was canceled.

Huggy Bear finally found his crew hanging out in front of Peppermint Frazier, the twenty-four-hour ice-cream and hotwing spot, talking to a few guys from an underground Tupac cult. Mojo, Boozoo, and Groovy Lou jumped in their rides, calibrated their stereos to today's sermon, Songs in the Key of Life, and set their cruise control to eighteen miles an hour. Then all four of them turtled down Freedom Ave parade style, a small cruising cumulus cloud of sound, boombapping the block with a quadruply quadraphonic Soul City Sunday afternoon blast of the master blaster.

But at the corner of Freedom and Rhythm, as they got to "Sir Duke," the Steviewondermobile slowed and the sound began to die. The gang pulled to the side of Freedom and cracked the hood. Yet another battery dead. Mojo drove off to Soul City Motors to pick up a new one. But for ten minutes the Steviewondermobile would be without sound. Tragedy? Huggy Bear never broke a sweat. He was prepared. He'd had Dolemite put in an emergency backup battery that was connected only to the sound system. He could boom the system even when the car wouldn't start. Did he know that if the backup battery was connected to the electrical system instead of the sound system that he could've kept on driving? Sure he did. But it was Huggy Bear's world and in Huggy Bear's world the music could never die. So he sat in the Steviewondermobile, stuck at the corner of Freedom and Rhythm, chilling with Groovy Lou and Boozoo to the soaring sounds of Stevie's seamless soul stew and the world he saw with his so wonderfully clear inner vision.

Copyright © 2002 by Tour

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The Portable Promised Land: Stories 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
This collections of stories by Toure touches on Universal truths for those of us growing up in the 80s/90s in a more 'urban' atmosphere. It is angry, funny, touching and magical. The authors writes with such plausibiliity and straightforwardness that you almost expect to see the Steveiewondermobile slowly rolling down your block, or to turn a corner and meet Daddy Love. A must-read for anyone who has gone looking for literature that addresses their generation and come up holding only a handful of beat poets whose works espouces the joy of heroin and hitchiking...
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is one of the few books I have read that made me laugh out loud while reading. Toure has come up with weird storylines that keeps you reading and wanting more. I liked the references Toure made to pop culture and contemporary musicians. This book would make for a great selection for a book club. I am looking forward in reading future short stories and novels by Toure.