Don't Cry for Me
Don’t Cry for Me, published in 2022, is the seventh novel by Blackwell (Conway County) native Daniel Black. The author uses an epistolary style to explore the complex relationship between a father and his gay son. As in his previous literary works, Black explores the themes of race, class, gender, and sexuality with the ultimate provocation of communal love. The impetus of Don’t Cry for Me is the grief Black was experiencing with the death of his father from Alzheimer’s. As his father’s memory faded, they could not mend their relationship, which was fraught with silences, misunderstandings, and rejection, so consolation could now only happen in Black’s imagination. He uses his literary skill to share an internal conversation on transgenerational trauma and the process of healing ourselves by recognizing the humanity and divinity of our fathers. A classic feature in most of Black’s literary works is a rural Arkansas setting. In Don’t Cry for Me, he situates the family in Kansas City, Missouri, with flashbacks to a small town in central Arkansas. The story centralizes an African American family whose experiences offer universal lessons.
The protagonist, Jacob, is dying of cancer and seeks to repair the relationship with his gay son Isaac. Over the years, both endure disappointments based on desires neither can meet. Isaac wants an affirming father who embraces his unorthodox boyhood and later manhood. Jacob desires a son who will uphold the family’s legacies and traditions of hard work, marriage, and reproduction. The unmet expectations ultimately lead to estrangement. Jacob spends his final days and last breath trying to fix the breach in their emotional and physical distance.
Through letters, readers witness the father’s transformation through literacy. As he learns to read, he acquires the language and bravery to share his painful past, acknowledge his shortcomings, and offer the fatherly affirmation he never received himself. Although the author does not reveal how and if the father and son are reconciled, he describes the courage of a Black man to be vulnerable in a way he never could before due to narrow and dehumanizing definitions of masculinity.
The book was described by Pulitzer Prize–winning poet and writer Jericho Brown as “marrying soliloquy to epistolary or a sustained view of a man’s changed mind. In so doing, we gain a lesson in a rural Black history yet taught in schools.” Don’t Cry for Me was named one of the most anticipated books of the year by Essence magazine. The author began working on a sequel to this novel.
Black is a professor of African American studies and English at his alma mater, Clark Atlanta University, and Morehouse College. Throughout his career, he has mentored young scholars and is the founder of Ndugu Nzinga, a community that promotes knowledge about African traditions, character building, and self-love cultivation. He has been nominated for the Townsend Literary Prize, the Ernest J. Gaines Award, the Ferro-Grumley Literary Prize, the Lambda Literary Award, and the Georgia Author of the Year Prize. In addition, he was awarded the Writer’s Award by the Middle-Atlantic Writers Association. Other literary works include They Tell Me of a Home (2005), The Sacred Place (2007), Perfect Peace (2010), Twelve Gates to the City (2011), The Coming (2015), and Listen to the Lambs (2016).
For additional information:
Black, Daniel. Don’t Cry for Me. New York: Hanover Square Press, 2022.
Maattala, Jenny. “Vulnerability and Growth in ‘Don’t Cry for Me.’” Southern Review of Books, February 25, 2022. https://southernreviewofbooks.com/2022/02/25/dont-cry-for-me-daniel-black-review/ (accessed March 14, 2023).
Jajuan S. Johnson
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