There were more eager audience members than chairs in the Doty Tower Room on Thursday March 7. The room waited excitedly for a reading from visiting author Jamel Brinkley, author of a 2018 collection of stories A Lucky Man.
After emphasizing some of his work’s key aspects, Brinkley read the audience two excerpts from A Lucky Man— part of the collection’s title story and part of the story “Everything the Mouth Eats.”
A Lucky Man, Brinkley confessed, is a sad collection of stories. It focuses on various male characters with issues to deal with and lessons to learn. Brinkley mentioned that the title may appear ironic because none of the characters in any of their respective stories seem to be lucky.
“It’s not entirely ironic, though, because I tried to make sure that each story in the collection had a moment of authentic pleasure … the kind of thing that would make you feel lucky to be alive,” Brinkley said. “As far as luck itself goes, in some sense, we all want to be lucky, we all want good things to happen to us … but if you think you deserve the things that happen to you in your life, then the notion [of being lucky] is called into question a little bit.”
Brinkley went on to read from the short story “A Lucky Man,” which tells the tale of a security guard whose beautiful wife left him. The main character is driven to contemplate whether or not he still deserves his wife, though in his youth there was no question that the pair belonged together. This story emphasizes A Lucky Man’s central theme, which begs audiences to question if luck is real or if humans have to work to acquire good things.
“Everything the Mouth Eats” follows the life of a boy and his brother. The boys have different fathers, but they live with the father of the narrator’s younger brother and their shared mother. This creates a conflict in the story based on differences in the brothers’ skin colors and the father figure’s love for the two boys.
Racial dynamics and tensions underscore every work in A Lucky Man. Brinkley told the audience that he does his best not to pander to audiences who don’t share his background, though it’s difficult to succeed without catering to a largely white society.
“I really have taken to heart that, in terms of writing stuff down for a reader, it’s not really my job to try to bend over backwards to interpret for you,” Brinkley said. “I’m the center of my own experience … anyone has access to my story. The only way to get to universal [themes] is through the particular.”
Associate professor of English and creative writing Lytton Smith commented that Brinkley is powerful in communicating his artistic vision.
“I see in [his] work a willingness to look, to watch— not to intervene, not to jump in, but to hold us there, to ask us to think about what we’re seeing,” Smith said. “I think Brinkley’s work gives us something … more than empathy. We might call it imagination, but only if we realize the full force of the image, the scene in the imagination, and only if we realize that seeing … is active, it’s engaged … it’s not just an idle gaze.”
Through striking imagery, in-depth character interiority and profound development of haunting overarching themes, Brinkley captivates audiences with A Lucky Man. Geneseo faculty and students felt lucky to have the author visit and were thankful for his pearls of wisdom with which he answered developing writers’ questions.