I finished Nelson George’s memoir, “City Kid: A Writer’s Memoir of Ghetto Life and Post-Soul Success” and I find myself physically situated in an elementary school in Niigata, yet mentally scouring the streets of Fort Green, Brooklyn in search of 19 Willoughby. His words, and recollections of a life well lived, are intoxicated with Brooklyn during arguably one of the most important eras in recent Black history. He was, and in many ways still is, the literary force during the emergence of hip-hop, distinguished Black film, and soul music.
Digesting the pages, with hints of both jealousy and awe, I read of his friendships with Spike Lee, Russell Simmons, Chris Rock, and Rocky Ford. Nelson George is blessed in that he came into fruition in the beginning of a new era. Nelson George is smart because he noticed it and took advantage. Soul was giving way to R&B, hip-hop introduced itself in the South Bronx, and the world wanted a piece. Luckily, Fort Green had become an epicenter for housing Black talent in nearly all of the arts, and George had become friends with every single pioneer.
George writes about the unrelenting influence the greats, like Hemingway and Wright, have had on his work. He reminisces about discovering their old school NYC hangouts and visiting himself. There he would breathe in the atmosphere and exhale the words. I wonder if he ever knew that he’d one day have the same effect on younger writers.
I was introduced to Nelson George not through a book, but rather my television. I was hooked to his travel series, “Soul Cities” and enjoyed eyeing the food while listening to the stories behind the music. From this show, I did know him as a writer but not enough for it matter in my own process.
This past August, I returned to NYC for a much-needed break from Japan and frequented my self-proclaimed second home in the city, the Union Square Barnes and Nobles. That building has seen hours of my reading and writing. Its also endured interviews I have conducted for J’Adore Magazine. On the hunt for “Art of Time” to help in the writing process of my memoir, I was told that they were sold out. Pissed, because nothing comes between me and my books, I perused around the “Employee Recommended” table and found “City Kid”. The price for the hardcover was a bit more than I budgeted for but I got it anyway. When things catch my attention, I give it in return. Little did I know I’d be investing in something that had the power to shape my own approach to writing.
I fly through books. The fastest I have read a memoir was in four hours and I could’ve accomplished this easily in reading, “City Kid”. I caught myself not wanting to though. I would slow down, wanting the words to last and the story to continue. The anecdotes about famous friendships that started from humble beginnings reminded me of an observation Jason and I made two years ago, about how many times famous friends seem to be created in clusters. You are the company you keep, and I act as so. George’s Amsterdam News and Billboard Magazine is my J’Adore Magazine. We both share single parent upbringing, a writing obsession, an underlying love story, and favorite getaways in lower Manhattan. This is a memoir, that no matter how much I tried, I couldn’t NOT personalize it. It spoke directly to me.
We’ve shared small Twit exchanges, but I am seriously intending to somehow attract the mentorship of this man. Dope read and highly recommended. Also, check the trailer for Chris Rock and Nelson George's documentary "Good Hair". It killed at the independent festivals and is being released in October. I hope it's released in the Asian market, if not I will be buying it online. (Shouts to all the sistas who wear their hair natural. We are far and few.)
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