Books

Readorama: Columnist Leonard Pitts Jr., author Jeff Guinn coming to KC

Leonard Pitts Jr. will speak at 6 p.m. Friday at the Black Archives of Mid-America, 1722 E. 17th Terrace.
Leonard Pitts Jr. will speak at 6 p.m. Friday at the Black Archives of Mid-America, 1722 E. 17th Terrace. File photo

The new novel by newspaper columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. is titled “Grant Park” and takes place on Election Day 2008.

Readers will be forgiven if they think it might concern Barack Obama’s election as president and the Grant Park celebration that night.

But that election is peripheral to the drama taking place inside the hearts of Bob Carson, an editor with the daily Chicago Post, and African-American columnist Malcolm Toussaint.

“Bob is the once-idealist white guy who has concluded wrongly that he has just become a racist, with steadily declining sympathy with the things that African-Americans are lamenting in 2008,” Pitts said recently.

“He has compassion fatigue.”

The oft-honored Malcolm, meanwhile, has decided that he can no longer abide the state of the country’s race relations, and his column announcing that in vivid terms has been rejected by several editors, Bob among them.

During an encounter 40 years before, Martin Luther King Jr. had advised the younger, more fiery Malcolm to take a less confrontational, more consensus-building path.

“But now Malcolm has walked that path for 40 years, and he is not happy where it has led him,” Pitts said.

Malcolm returns to the paper late at night and, using Bob’s password, hacks his way into the computer system and places his incendiary piece on the next morning’s front page.

Bob is fired. Malcolm is kidnapped by white supremacists.

“Grant Park” is a thriller, and readers will find themselves turning pages accordingly, although the interior stories of Bob and Malcolm regarding their younger selves may be the real action.

Pitts, whose column appears in The Star, will speak at 6 p.m. Friday at the Black Archives of Mid-America, 1722 E. 17th Terrace. For more info, go to blackarchives.org.

Plains Indians, Charles Manson intersect

Writer Jeff Guinn’s beat long has been the American West, and he routinely seeks those places where frontier mythology bumps up against things that actually happened.

With “Buffalo Trail,” the second novel in a planned Western trilogy, Guinn juxtaposes actual historical figures from opposing camps of southern Plains Indians and white buffalo hunters whose paths collide at the Second Battle of Adobe Walls in 1874. That clash hastened the ultimate removal of those Indians to reservations in Oklahoma.

“Buffalo Trail” is front-loaded with an account of the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre of Plains Indians by a Colorado militia. One of the survivors is a Cheyenne girl named Mochi.

“Mochi is one of the great unknown characters in Western history; I had never heard of her until I started researching this book,” Guinn said recently.

“Sand Creek precipitated the absolute mistrust of the southern Plains Indians toward the whites. There are two sides in this book and both sides have strong reasons to act the way they act. Sand Creek lights the fuse for what explodes at Adobe Walls.”

Charles Manson and Comanche mystic Isa-Tai both exhibited a gift for commanding audiences eager to hear a specific message.

A former reporter for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Guinn also has written biographies of 20th-century outlaws such as Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker, as well as Charles Manson.

Both Manson and Isa-Tai, a Comanche mystic who appears in “Buffalo Trail,” exhibited a gift for commanding audiences eager to hear a specific message.

Isa-Tai, Guinn said, helped convince members of several tribes to unite against the white hunters after he started describing how spirits had been speaking to him, detailing how the white men’s bullets could be powerless against them.

Then there’s Manson.

“Charles Manson was a hustler who copped lines from the Bible, the Beatles and Dale Carnegie, learning to say catchy things as part of a pseudo-philosophy that brought him some temporary prominence,” Guinn said.

Fate placed Manson in Haight-Ashbury in the 1960s, when young people from across the country were descending upon the San Francisco district, searching for something they couldn’t quite articulate.

“Then there are the Comanches, who are feeling they are about to be annihilated,” Guinn said.

Both Manson and Isa-Tai would find their followers, Guinn said, and many would come to grief under their spells.

Guinn speaks at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Woodneath Library Center, 8900 N.E. Flintlock Road. For more info, go to mymcpl.org.

Brian Burnes: 816-234-4120, @BPBthree

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