Few writers can inhabit multiple characters with equal intensity and vivacity, and most who can are, of course, playwrights or screenwriters...Sidik Fofana’s debut collection reveals him to have this rare gift...The collection introduces us to eight black residents of the Banneker Terrace apartments in Harlem...As the poem that introduces the collection asks, 'Everybody got a story, everybody got a tale / Question is: Is it despair or prevail?'...Fofana makes us feel viscerally the weight of life’s injustice...He doesn’t idealize or airbrush his characters, yet he enables us to know their wit, ingenuity, joy, and resilience.
The Banneker Terrace housing complex doesn’t actually exist at present-day 129th Street and Frederick Douglass Avenue in Harlem...But the stories assembled in this captivating debut collection feel vividly and desperately authentic in chronicling diverse African American residents of Banneker poised at crossroads in their overburdened, economically constrained lives...“Ms. Dallas” may well be the collection’s most caustically observant and poignantly tender story; the title character, Verona Dallas, besides being Swan’s mother, works as a paraprofessional at the neighborhood’s middle school while working nights 'at the airport doin’ security'...All these stories are told in the first-person voices of their protagonists and thus rely on urban Black dialect that may put off some readers at first, with the frequent colloquial use of the N-word and other idiomatic expressions...But those willing to use their ears more than their eyes to read along will find a rich, ribald, and engagingly funny vein of verbal music, as up-to-the-minute as hip-hop, but as rooted in human verities as Elizabethan dialogue...A potentially significant voice in African American fiction asserts itself with wit and compassion.
The residents of a low-income high-rise apartment building in Harlem form the beating heart of Fofana’s dynamic debut collection...The hardscrabble tenants of Banneker Terrace tread water while their greedy landlord imposes evictions...In 'The Rent Manual,' Mimi in 14D remarks on how the building houses 'a little bit of everybody,' including 'folks with child-support payments, uncles in jail, aunties on crack, cousins in the Bloods, sisters hoein'...In 'The Okiedoke,' Swan in 6B nervously awaits his friend’s release from prison, while in 'Camaraderie,' Dary in 12H, who is gay, has high hopes for his future while doing sex work to pay the rent...Fofana delivers the hardy, profane, violent, and passionate narration in Black English Vernacular, and finds the humanity in all his characters as they struggle to get by...These engrossing and gritty stories of tenuous living in a gentrifying America enchant.