The New Yorker chose Fire on the Beach as one of its notable selections, and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch named it one of its Best Books of 2001. Away Running was named an Outstanding International Book by the US Board on Books for Young People and was selected by the Junior Library Guild and the Texas Library Association for its high school reading lists. An excerpt from Black Cloud Rising, entitled “The Sand Banks, 1861,” appeared in the New Yorker.
A former Fulbright Fellow to Brazil, Wright Faladé is the 2021-22 Mary Ellen von der Heyden Fellow of the NY Public Library’s Cullman Center for Writers. His work has been recognized by the Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Texas Institute of Letters. He teaches in the MFA program at the University of Illinois.
Literary representation: Eric Simonoff, William Morris Endeavor.
BOOKS & DOCUMENTARY
BLACK CLOUD RISING (A NOVEL)
Set during the American Civil War, Black Cloud Rising tells the story of a man grappling with his own complicated history as he forges a future for himself—and his country.
By fall of 1863, Union forces had taken control of Tidewater Virginia and established a toehold in eastern North Carolina, including along the Outer Banks. Thousands of freed slaves and runaways flooded the Union lines, but Confederate irregulars still roamed the region. In December, the newly formed African Brigade, a unit of these former slaves led by General Edward Augustus Wild—a one-armed, impassioned abolitionist—set out from Portsmouth to hunt down the rebel guerillas and extinguish the threat.
From this little-known historical episode comes Black Cloud Rising, a dramatic account of these soldiers—men who only weeks earlier had been enslaved, but were now Union infantrymen setting out to fight their former owners. At the heart of the narrative is Sergeant Richard Etheridge, the son of a slave and her master, raised with some privileges but constantly reminded of his place. Deeply conflicted about his past, Richard is eager to show himself to be a credit to his race. As the African Brigade conducts raids through the areas occupied by the Confederate Partisan Rangers, he and his comrades recognize that they are fighting for more than territory. Wild’s mission is to prove that his troops can be trusted as soldiers in combat. And because many of the men have fled from the very plantations in their path, each raid is also an opportunity to free loved ones left behind. For Richard, this means the possibility of reuniting with Fanny, the woman he hopes to one day marry.
Richard must navigate a world of violence and moral uncertainty, never knowing whether the shot that could end his life will be fired by his own white cousin, who has turned Confederate guerrilla, or his fellow soldier, the self-named Revere, who sneeringly sees through Richard’s racial self-doubt.
“David Wright Faladé’s thrilling, revelatory Black Cloud Rising turns Civil War history upside down and makes America give up one of its darkest secrets—that our racial tension is literally a family feud.”
James Hannaham, Pen/Faulkner Award-winning author of Delicious Foods
“Black Cloud Rising is riveting and authentic – an intimate and brilliantly written portrayal of former slaves who risked everything to fight in the African Brigades during the Civil War. It's a compelling and deeply moving story of race, war and the eternal pursuit of freedom.”
David Zucchino, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Wilmington's Lie
“The brilliant portrayal of crucially defining matters of racial history in America will rightly draw great acclaim to David Wright Faladé’s Black Cloud Rising. But this novel’s power is transcendent. Told in an exquisitely distinctive and nuanced voice, it reaches deep into the universal human condition and engages the core yearning of us all: our yearning for a self, for an identity, for a place in the universe.”
Robert Olen Butler, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain
“Black Cloud Rising is the story of a minor engagement in the Civil War, a footnote in most history books, but it is the story of a major part of American history: the hard fought, still continuing battle of African Americans to rise from slavery to equality. From a single time and place, like a hologram it generates a three-dimensional picture of the difficulties, complexities, and nuances faced by Black people then and now. If you like history, if you want to better understand the struggle for equality, no matter your personal history or race, and if you want a good story, read this book. It’s a triple threat.”
Karl Marlantes, New York Times-bestselling author of Matterhorn
Matt and Free discover the dark side of the City of Light.
Matt, a white quarterback from Montreal, Quebec, flies to France (without his parents’ permission) to play football and escape family pressure. Freeman, a black defensive back from San Antonio, Texas, is in Paris on a school trip when he hears about a team playing in a rough, low-income suburb called Villeneuve-La-Grande. Matt and Free join the team, the Diables Rouges. For both boys, this is one last fling before facing the inevitabilities that await them: college, careers… life.
Their friendship blossoms as they explore the cobbled streets and age-old architecture of the City of Light. But the relationships that Free and Matt develop in Villeneuve expose them — and our readers — to a side of Paris that’s rarely seen, the Paris of projects and poverty, of class divisions and racial strife. Riots erupt in Villeneuve after some of their Muslim teammates get harassed by the police, and Matt and Free have to decide whether to get involved and face the very real risk of arrest and violence.
“Action-packed” yet “introspective” - Booklist
The Huffington Post: “This book has fire behind the words… It also has poetry and asks questions that should be discussed openly and never swept under the rug of readers.”
Kirkus Reviews: “Authors Wright and Bouchard, who met playing football in Paris and draw on experience for detailed authenticity, pull no punches in addressing racism and social ills, effectively presenting a complicated situation with no simple solution. Timely, nuanced, and highly respectful of readers’ intelligence.”
Elisa Carbone, award-winning author of Jump: "This is an important book. With characters we immediately care about, spot on dialogue, and a fast moving, football filled plot, Away Running takes readers into the very heart of racial and cultural prejudice. Inspired by true events in Paris in 2005, the novel builds to a crescendo that will take your breath away. Wright and Bouchard have molded a story that confronts some of our most pressing social ills, and offers a thread of hope."
I was featured on February 8, 2017 on Cynsations, New York Times and Publishers Weekly best-selling author Cynthia Leitich Smith’s blog. Cynsations is a source for conversations, publishing information, literacy and free speech advocacy, writer resources, inspiration, bookseller-librarian-teacher appreciation, news in children's and young adult literature, and author outreach. Check it out!
Fire on the Beach recovers a lost gem of American history. It tells the story of the U.S. Life-Saving Service, formed in 1871 to assure the safe passage of American and international shipping and to save lives and salvage cargo. A century ago, the adventures of the now-forgotten “surfmen” who, in crews of seven, bore the brunt of this dangerous but vital duty filled the pages of popular reading material, from Harper’s to the Baltimore Sun and New York Herald. Station 17, located on the desolate beaches of Pea Island, North Carolina, housed one such unit, and Richard Etheridge—the only black man to lead a lifesaving crew—was its captain.
In 1896, when the three-masted schooner E. S. Newman beached during a hurricane, Etheridge and his men accomplished one of the most daring rescues in the annals of the Life-Saving Service, one for which they would be posthumously awarded the Gold Life-Saving Medal.
Fire on the Beach depicts the lives of Etheridge and his crew against the backdrop of late-nineteenth-century America—the horrors of the Civil War, the hopefulness of Reconstruction, and the long slide toward Plessy v. Ferguson that followed. Full of exploits and heroics, Fire on the Beach, like the movie Glory, illustrates yet another example of the little-known but outstanding contributions of a remarkable group of African-Americans to our country’s history.
"Social history at its readable best" - the Memphis Flyer
“Fire on the Beachadds significantly to our understanding of the many essential ways in which African Americans have served their country” – the Washington Post
"The Sand Banks, 1861" (short fiction) The New Yorker, august 31, 2020
"Lone Star" (memoir) The New Yorker, July 12 & 19, 2021
"Teach Me" (op-ed) The Texas Standard, a partnership of Texas Public Radio/KERA Dallas/ KUT Austin/Houston Public Media
“Teach me,” a friend said to me last week. “You’re a university professor. I want to know what I need to do to make things better for you.”
It’s now a month after the death of Houstonian George Floyd, and my friend asked me to lunch in reaction to the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests that have arisen since. I’ll confess: her request threw me. She and I are both 50-something Texans, both from the Panhandle — me, Borger; her, from a small town near Tulia, with its wretched history of racism by their local criminal justice system. She is white and dear to me; we dated for a time. I’m black.
“What is it you want me to teach you?” I started, then heard myself following with: “Why is it I have to teach you things you should already know?”
My sisters playfully chide me for being the stereotypical “angry black man” — Malcolm Farrakhan, one calls me — but I wasn’t trying to hurt my friend’s feelings. I genuinely wanted — and want — to understand. Given that the idea of race and racial difference is constructed — I’m not born with a gene that makes me a better dancer or more drawn to watermelon — then the fact that the police aim their policing disproportionately more at me than her is a by-product of how they’ve been conditioned by society and sanctioned by policies to see me as more of a threat. Yet, while it’s me who directly suffers from racism and therefore might seem to be the one to benefit from it ending, the problem is still hers at least as much as it is mine. She doesn’t seem to recognize this.
Racism in the United States is an American problem. Unlike most others, our country was built on a set of ideals — about the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. While shortfalls and outright failure in achieving these aims directly harm some, it’s to the detriment of all. And not merely in an abstract, heaven-or-hell moral way, but in the here and now. When I feel my children are at risk, I’ll do whatever I have to to deal with the threat.
But when it’s your son who, on only his third shift on the force, is ordered by his training officer to put his body weight on the back of a prone man while the supervisor kneels on the man’s neck, this makes of your son a murderer, and so it harms you and your entire family. When, in order to deter future migrants, your niece who works at the Border Patrol Processing Center in McAllen is ordered to take a baby from the arms of the Honduran mother breastfeeding him and handcuff and remove the mother, this makes of your niece a torturer, and so it harms you and your entire family. If we, as a society, stop attempting to live up to our national ideals, then the experiment of American freedom, however flawed, has failed, and all of us, the entire country, suffer for it.
Another piece of our shared problem is that white people, even well-meaning ones like my friend, tend to disbelieve black people when we tell them our realities. They want to believe, but it’s hard for them to. When I say that the store clerk seems to be following me or that the attendant spoke to me disrespectfully, my friend tends to see it as an anomaly. The impulse is to reduce the American experience to a single experience — white people’s — and the troubling event becomes the result of “one bad apple,” not of institutions and systems that cause these people to treat me in this way.
Was the travesty of the killing of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, shot while playing in a city park by an officer who’d already been fired by one police department before being hired by Cleveland’s, just a one-off? The answer, of course, is no. Because George Floyd in Minneapolis, and because Breonna Taylor in Louisville, and because Elijah McClain in Aurora, because, because, because…
African Americans and other people of color are the obvious victims. But all Americans are victimized because the promise of “America” dies a little more with each new death.
It was 168 years ago on that Frederick Douglass delivered his speech, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” More than just calling for the abolition of slavery, he also spoke of a grander mission still — that the society of his day strive to finally achieve the ideals of equality for all Americans. How is it that, a century and a half later, and after a bloody civil war, after another 100 years of struggle for civil rights and so many martyrs gone, we still, today, read Douglass’s speech with contemporary relevance and not merely as an historical document?
How is it that white people don’t know any more than they know?
How is it that I, a professor who attempts to teach your children these fundamental truths, have to also teach them to you?
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