Sunday, November 17, 2013

Tony Lindsay Presents... Julian Mayfield

Julian Mayfield wrote fiction about life in Harlem during the nineteen fifties. Two of his novels The Hit and The Long Night were compiled into a single book by The Northeastern Library of Black Literature.  Mayfield’s fiction skills lay in his almost abrasive talent of recording life as fiction. The streets of Harlem during the fifties walk the pages of his work. What one may turn away from in life is eagerly read in Mayfield’s work. Unexpectedly, community is the theme in both novels, and in each Mayfield’s creative talent allows the reader see the power of a cohesive community.

In The Hit, a main character, Hubert Cooley is portrayed as a man who places himself above all the occupants of Harlem including his wife. Although he works maintaining others’ apartments, he feels he is above those in his community and his family, but what the reader quickly summarizes is that the dream of hitting the “number” is just as big for him as it for every resident, if not bigger. Cooley’s life and dreams match his community but he doesn’t see it, and Mayfield writes this lack of vision as Cooley’s tragic flaw. Add to that his self-ostracizing statue, and that makes Mayfield’s Cooley an unforgettable character.  

 Mayfield displays this misguided belief in self by having Cooley arrested and thrown into the drunk tank while dressed in a business suit. Throughout the work the readers sees the insanity of self-ostracizing for an African American living in Harlem. Cooley foolishly puts himself above and outside of others in his community, “Hubert Cooley had but one obsession, and that was to leave family, home, and Harlem as far behind as possible, and create a new life for himself” (Mayfield 8).

When Cooley final does hit the number, and the community he so despises begins to respect him, he is beaten from his rewards by another who views himself above the community. Mayfield artfully juxtapose the two characters (a numbers runner and a maintenance man) to bring home his theme of community unity. In the second portion of the book, The Long Night, ten year old Fred Brown, Steely, takes the reader through a tortuous Harlem night.

Steely quickly learns that those who appear cool and popular in the Harlem community are not necessarily the dependable and responsible folks.  The leaders of the gang he so proud to be a member of are responsible for his long night on the streets of Harlem. Steely was given a task by his mother, after failing at the task he decides he can recoup his failure on the streets.

 His night with the dwellers of the dark streets of Harlem reduces Steely to petty crime attempts and to a decision no ten year old boy should have to make. Mayfield’s prose talent holds the reader through a night most would not witness, but the story holds and gracefully relieves with a surprises ending.   

In these two novels, The Hit and The Long Night, the theme of community is consistent, and Julian Mayfield skills as writer are apparent.  Harlem in the nineteen fifties comes to life in both works.   

Tony Lindsay is an award-winning author and adjunct professor at Chicago State University. His book ONE DEAD DOCTOR was chosen by Conversations Book Club as one of its Top 100 Books of 2012. Lindsay was named Conversations Author of the Year 2012-2013.  His new book EMOTIONAL DRIPPINGS is available now on He can be reached at or on Facebook at

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