This is the paperback edition of Underground Airlines, which came to my house today and which can be in your house, if you’re interested, on July 18.
There is generally about a year between the publication of a book and the arrival of the softcover, and for any work that deals with political or other time-sensitive themes, one only hopes that you have not been mooted by subsequent events.
For Underground Airlines, the themes and ideas have, tragically, only become more relevant. My novel, as I’ve written elsewhere, was an attempt to dramatize the ways that the legacy of American slavery still informs our lives today; how we are still living with this brutal inheritance.
This is not a truth that has changed since I wrote the book.
With black Americans still routinely dying at the hands of police, and with those police still routinely escaping consequence; with Jeff Sessions at the head of the Justice Department, rolling back civil rights legislation and ramping up the racist “war on crime”, it is clear we are in a period of retrenchment, not progress.
I said when the book came out that it was “an alternate history that wasn’t alternate enough.” Now, sadly, a year out from publication, that is even truer than it was.
So, anyway—though obviously I would love it if everyone would go out and buy the book, I thought I would use this space and time to highlight some institutions, related to the novel’s themes, worthy of continued attention and support.
- The Movement for Black Lives is an umbrella group, comprising a wide range of organizations fighting for equality and justice for black Americans.
- The premise of the novel, that race-based chattel slavery remains a part of American life in the modern day, is intended to be shocking—but there are literally, right now, in reality, nearly 46 million people in various forms of enslavement around the globe. An organization that works on this issue all over the world is called Free the Slaves; in the United States, a useful resource is End Slavery Now.
- At publication I got some shit on the internet for being a white man writing a novel about slavery with a black narrator—especially after a NYT profile called me “fearless” for doing so. The silver lining, for me, was that I ended up having a lot of thoughtful conversations with a lot of very smart people, many of whom pointed to the work of We Need Diverse Books, addressing systemic racism in the publishing industry.
- Finally, crucially, give to the Democratic party. Support your local progressive candidates. And look, I know, we liberals aren’t perfect either, and ending the Trump era will not usher us into the utopian future we deserve, but it sure will be a step in the right direction.