At twelve years old, Cornelius, the son of an Italian-American woman and an older black man from Mississippi named Herman, secretly takes over his father’s job at a silent film theater in New York’s East Village. Five years later, as Herman lives out his last days, he shares his wisdom with his son, explaining that the person who controls the narrative of history controls their own fate. After his father dies and his mother disappears, Cornelius sets about reinventing himselfas Professor John Woman, a man who will spread Herman’s teachings into the classrooms of his unorthodox southwestern university and beyond. But there are other individuals who are attempting to influence the narrative of John Woman, and who might know something about the facts of his hidden past.
Engaging with some of the most provocative ideas of recent intellectual history, John Woman is a compulsively readable, deliciously unexpected novel about the way we tell stories, and whether the stories we tell have the power to change the world.
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About the Author
Hometown:New York, New York
Date of Birth:January 12, 1952
Place of Birth:Los Angeles, California
Education:B.A., Johnson State College
Read an Excerpt
One evening Herman stopped his son in the middle of The Confessions of Saint Augustine and said, “This is the power of the world, boy. The memory of an unattainable paradise where everything is predictable and outwardly control-lable. It is all that we are; history, memory. It is what happened, or what we decide on believing has happened. It is yesterday and a million years ago. It is today but still we cannot grasp it.”
“I don’t know what you mean, dad,” Cornelius said. He was sixteen that day but his father, for all his interest in history, did not remember the date. Since he was in his bed almost twenty-four hours a day he had no need for a calendar.
“I mean that the person who controls history controls their fate. The man who can tell you what happened, or did not happen, is lord and master of all he surveys.”
“But if he claims something that isn’t true then he’s master of a lie,” Cornelius reasoned.
Herman smiled and leaned forward. “But,” he said, holding up a lecturing finger, “if everyone believes the lie then he controls a truth that we all as-sent to. There is no true event, Cornelius, only a series of occurrences open to interpretation.”
Though Cornelius did not know it for many years, this was the moment of the birth of John Woman.