Virtual Book Launch: Black Bottom Saints by Alice Randall
Dates: August 23, 2020
Location: online via Zoom
Fee: FREE, registration details to come
To purchase the book: Bunch of Grapes (50 signed bookplates available!).
Join us for the virtual book launch of Alice Randall's novel Black Bottom Saints on Sunday, August 23rd at 4pm!
Singular both in style and in the sweeping story it tells, Alice Randall’s kaleidoscopic novel, Black Bottom Saints is a celebration of African American life, culture and achievement as refracted through the prism of a famed Detroit neighborhood during its decades of glory. Randall, best known as the author of the controversial bestseller The Wind Done Gone, as well as an award -winning songwriter, creates a fictional “memoir” of real-life figure Joseph “Ziggy” Johnson, a choreographer, nightclub emcee, and gossip columnist, that imagines his encounters with both legends and now-forgotten denizens of the black community that thrived from the 1930s to the early years of Motown in the 1960s.
As he writes from his deathbed in the black-owned and operated Kirwood Hospital, Ziggy Johnson models his recollections on a Catholic Saints Day Book. His Book of Saints comprises personal memories of 52 Saints, a weekly year’s worth, from legendary entertainers like Dinah Washington, Billy Eckstine, and Sammy Davis, Jr., to boxer Joe Louis, golfer Ted Rhodes and poet Robert Hayden, to civic and church leaders and Martin Luther King. There are moments of triumph and tragedy, of violence and redemption, all wrapped in humor and wisdom.
From his privileged perch as founder of the Ziggy Johnson School of the Theater, and as showbiz impresario, travelling vaudevillian, and nightclub host, Ziggy also has daily encounters with audiences of those he names “breadwinners”—the factory folk that fueled Detroit’s thriving economy. Through many vantage points, Ziggy paints a portrait of a dynamic, self-reliant black community filled with citizens earning good steady wages, doing skilled jobs, and owning their own homes. Black Bottom, during this heyday, was “Black Camelot,” Ziggy says, as seminal to the African American story as Harlem or Chicago’s Bronzeville.
Ziggy’s Book of Saints is finished after his death by Mari, called “Colored Girl,” who pieces it together from the scattered remnants he has left behind. “Some have cautioned me about this book,” Colored Girl writes, “warning that within Ziggy’s pages is the wisdom that has allowed us to survive a vicious world, and that we should not share that wisdom so widely, as it may come into the hands of those who have made Black lives harder….I say even if there is no heaven, your worst day is behind you and I will teach you a dance that lets you know in your clean bones your worst day is behind you—a dance Ziggy taught me.”
Alice Randall’s unique narrative of “tributes” also features paired cocktails, libations strong and satisfying that capture the essence of these revered personalities. As dazzling as the “mistery” Ziggy celebrated—lost historical facts and lost cultural wisdom that he believe only dance, drum, song, and poem could reclaim - Black Bottom Saints offers a wholly original panorama of a lost time and place, preserving it in all its enthralling brilliance.
“But as the portraits accumulate and grow in depth and breadth, they make up an absorbing and poignant account of a glittering age in the life of a once-thriving metropolis.” - Kirkus Reviews
“Randall returns to adult fiction (after The Diary of B. B. Bright, Possible Princess) with a sprawling and intimate genre-bending chronicle of the adventures and tribulations of the extraordinary real-life Detroit emcee and theater director Joseph “Ziggy” Johnson (1913–1968)…
This works as a memorable love letter to Detroit, as well as a remarkable tableau.” - Publishers Weekly
“Each of Randall's books is a literary event, and readers will
embrace this radiant celebration of African American art and culture.” - Starred Booklist
"Black Bottom Saints is a tour-de-force; a toast to a mystical, gritty place; a tableau of Black arts and culture centering on Detroit City. Within these finely crafted and luminous pages that readers will never want to leave, Alice Randall has resurrected a lost glitter world. Here, Detroit’s original and best Black neighborhood, along with its brilliant, yearning, brave, maddening, and ultimately mortal residents, bursts to colorful life in a flash of incomparable style. Black Bottom Saints is a ritual calling forth of the blazing spirits of bygone breadwinners, reminding not only Detroiters, but all Black Americans, that 'Once upon a time, we did it.'" - Tiya Miles, author of The Dawn of Detroit and Professor of History, Harvard University
"Black Bottom Saints is easily the most inventive and musical novel I've read in a decade. Alice Randall has rewritten and re-energized the rules of the American novel!" - Kiese Laymon, author of Long Division and Heavy, Professor of English and Creative Writing, University of Mississippi
"Alice Randall has done it again! Black Bottom Saints sneaks up on you--telling you the rich story of Black Michigan and Black Detroit in a way that has never been told before. Detroit is not just Motown. Detroit is a stronghold of black America and black culture. This book tells the story. The characters, so rich, the story so strong, so complex. This book is instantly an American classic. Randall is at the top of her form." - Randall Kenan, author of A Visitation of Spirits, Professor of English and Comparative Literature, University of North Carolina
About the Author:
Alice Randall is the Harvard-educated author of novels, including The Wind Done Gone, Pushkin and the Queen of Spades, Rebel Yell, and Ada's Rules. An award-winning songwriter, she co-wrote the #1 hit XXX’s and OOO’s which celebrates Aretha Franklin. With her daughter, Caroline Randall Williams, she co-authored the acclaimed cookbook Soul Food Love which won the NAACP Image award and the young adult novel The Diary of B. B. Bright, Possible Princess, which received the Phillis Wheatley Award. A Professor and Writer-in-Residence at Vanderbilt University, Randall teaches courses on soul food, African-American children's literature, and African-American film. A native of Detroit, she lives in Nashville, Tennessee.