Francisco (a novel) by Alison Mills Newman

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“A lost masterpiece of American literature about the creative evolution of a young Black woman in California and her intense relationship with an indie filmmaker.”

Synopsis:

Alison Mills Newman’s innovative, genre-bending novel has long been out of print and impossible to find. A “fluently funky mix of standard and nonstandard English,” as the poet and scholar Harryette Mullen once put it, Francisco is the first-person account of a young actress and musician and her growing disillusionment with her success in Hollywood. Her wildly original and vivid voice chronicles a free-spirited life with her filmmaker lover, visiting friends and family up and down California, as well as her involvement in the 1970s Black Arts Movement. Love and friendship, long, meaningful conversations, parties and dancing―Francisco celebrates, as she improvises in the book, “the workings of a positive alive life that is good value, quality, carin, truth … the gift of art for the survival of the human heart.”

Editorial Reviews

Review

“Mills Newman has done the rare thing: written with beauty, power, and purity about a woman.”
Toni Morrison

“Mills Newman’s exquisitely distilled novel, Francisco, is the song one would expect Love to be singing these troubled days of the 1970s―a song you cannot have heard before, off-key and haunting, disturbing even in its unfamiliarity.”
William Demby

“When blackness, then and now, is so burdened with pain, it is a blessing to find a story of black lovers, written by a woman learning to love herself as she falls in love with Francisco.”
Harryette Mullen

“[Francisco] promises to introduce a new generation of readers to Newman’s innovative and genre-bending story.”
Isle McElroy, The Millions

“This brilliant, long out-of-print novel was rescued by (who else?) New Directions…snappy asides and transitions appear as enjambments ― pushing the pace forward like the ding of a typewriter carriage. The sensuousness is the point. This latest edition of Francisco gives a new generation of readers the opportunity to think about how little has changed in the culture industry’s relationship of convenience with Black artists.”
Justin Rosier, Vulture

“Readers will be grateful for the raw fervor and passion found in these pages.”
Publishers Weekly

“The book makes space for rumination, complexity, and transience. It offers a unique window into the mind of one woman, at one moment in history, and by doing so examines beauty, sex, and art through her eyes. Once you get into the flow of Newman’s prose, you’ll find artistic and intellectual riches.”
Kirkus Reviews

“The novel blends vernacular riffs with cameos from Reed and Muhammad Ali, Pharoah Sanders and Angela Davis, Melvin Van Peebles and Amiri Baraka. “
Adam Bradley, The New York Times

Francisco coincided with second-wave feminism and the Black Power and Black Arts movements, and the content and style of the book draw on those currents. The novel’s defining traits are its experimental structure and its vernacular syntax. Mills Newman writes in lilting first-person sentences that lurch and flow like a jazz vamp.”
Stephen Hearse, The Nation

Francisco is a sly, poetically rendered time-capsule. Part dreamscape, part genre-fluid testimony, threaded through with an epistolary casualness, it blooms with the distinctive trappings of late-twentieth century California counterculture. Deceptively slight in size, it swirls with commentary on media, politics, class, race, a burgeoning second-wave feminism, and the flex and flare of the Black Power and Black Arts Movements. It’s about living outside the lines, but, too, it’s about searching for one’s center…Montage-like and laced together in Mills Newman’s lowercase argot (part cadenced Black vernacular, part poetry), Francisco lifts off the page sentence by sentence, as if the text itself is charging forward. The scenes and situations share future/present space, fracture. Images skitter along like an art-film, shot with a hand-held camera. Characters appear, wedge a door open or find a seat, to chat for a spell before they tear off to their next adventure. They are, each and everyone, comrade or nemesis, her education.”
Lynell George, The Back Room

About the Author

Alison Mills Newman started her career as the first African American teenage actress on a television series (Julia). As a musician and vocalist she has performed with Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry, Weather Report, and Taj Mahal. She is an award-winning film director and the author of the novel Maggie 3. Mills Newman is the president of Keep the Faith Film Ministries, a chaplain at Fulton County Jail, and has five beautiful children with the late Francisco Toscono Newman, as well as ten grandchildren.

Saidiya Hartman is the author of Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments, Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route, and Scenes of Subjection. A MacArthur “Genius” Fellow, she is a professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University and lives in New York.
 

 

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