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Friday, March 8, 2013

Tony Lindsay Presents... Novelist Leon Forrest

There is genre fiction, and there is literary fiction. Within these two categories are groups; in part, genre fiction consists of mystery, romance, science fiction, chick-lit, street-lit, western, thriller, and the list continues to grow. The components of literary fiction are less in number but just as vast in scope: historical, magical realism, stream of consciousness, speculative, allegory, satire, and pastoral. Writers of literary fiction employ tropes or figurative devices in their work that go beyond the popular metaphors or reoccurring similes that are common genre fiction.

Magical realism, perhaps the most demanding category of literary fiction, is used by few writers successfully. One who has succeeded in being considered a magical realist is novelist Leon Forrest.

In his work, Two Wings to Veil My Face, Forrest writes the slave history of an African American family. He weaves the story through two protagonists: a grandson -Nathaniel Witherspoon and Great-Momma Sweetie Reed the grandmother. The masterful story telling begins with the stressful situation of the family at the funeral home to view the deceased grandfather.

In this section of the text, Forrest displays through painstaking imagery the complex relationship between the father-Arthur Witherspoon, the son/grandson, and a self reliant - spirit talking to Great-Momma Sweetie who refuses to attend the grandfather’s, her one hundred and seventeen year old husband, funeral.
Through this couples marriage, which starts when Great-Momma Sweetie is fifteen and Jericho Witherspoon is fifty-five, the reader witnesses slavery after the Civil War, the interdependent relationship of post slavery master and slave, the harsh truth of freedom bringing Union Soldiers, and the fragile lives of women of the era.
What Forrest does through magical realism . . . is make unbearable human situations bearable in the pages of Two Wings to Veil My Face. Relationships between the characters in this novel, in actual life, would have mind shattering repercussions. Only a magical realist can have an abused daughter visit an abuser father on his deathbed seeking solace and understanding. Only a magical realist can cause a reader to accept a barren wife of forty years raising a husband’s child from an adulterous affair. Only a magical realist could cause a reader to believe that a slave broke his master’s back for sleeping with his woman, and another slave healed the master and brought him back to life.

What is unacceptable in reality, through Leon Forrest’s literary craft becomes real in Two Wings to Veil My Face - one Leon Forrest’s five novels.
 There is a Tree More Ancient than Eden (Random House, 1973)
 The Bloodworth Orphans (Random House, 1977)
 Two Wings to Veil My Face (Asphodel, 1984)
 Divine Days (Another Chicago Press, 1992)
 Meteor in the Madhouse (Northwestern University, 2001)

Tony Lindsay is a writer and adjunct professor at Chicago State University. His latest book ONE DEAD DOCTOR was chosen as one of Conversations Top 100 Books of 2012. Lindsay was also voted Conversations Author of the Year 2012-13. He can be reached at or on Facebook at

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