Fresh out of graduate school, Holly Mattox is a young, newly married, and spirited poet who moves to New York City from Minnesota in the early 1970’s. Hoping to share her passion for words and social justice, Holly is also determined to contribute to the politically charged atmosphere around her. Her mission: to successfully teach a poetry workshop at the Women’s House of Detention on Rikers Island, only minutes from Manhattan.
Having listened to her mother recite verse by heart all her life, Holly has always been drawn to poetry. Yet until she stands before a class made up of prisoners and detainees–all troubled women charged with a variety of crimes–even Holly does not know the full power that language can possess. Words are the only weapon left to many of these outspoken women: the hooker known as Baby Ain’t (as in “Baby Ain’t Nobody Better!”); Gene/Jean, who is mid-sex change; drug mule Never Delgado; and Akilah Malik, a leader of the Black Freedom Front.
One woman in particular will change Holly’s life forever: Polly Lyle Clement, an inmate awaiting transfer to a mental hospital upstate, one day announces that she is a descendant of Mark Twain and is capable of channeling his voice. And so begins Holly’s descent into the dark recesses of the criminal justice system, where in an attempt to understand and help her students she will lose her perspective on the nature of justice–and risk ruining everything stable in her life. As Holly begins an affair
with a fellow poet–who claims to know her better than she knows herself–she finds herself adrift between two ends of the social and political spectrum, between two men and two identities.
National Book Award finalist Carol Muske-Dukes has created an explosive, mesmerizing novel exploring the worlds of poetry, sex, and politics in the unforgettable New York City of the seventies. Written with her trademark captivating language and emotional intuition, Channeling Mark Twain is Muske-Dukes’s most powerful work to date.
From the Hardcover edition.
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|Title of eBook: Channeling Mark Twain|
|Release Date: 07-03-2007|
|Allowed Countries (hover)|
|Publisher: Random House Publishing Group|
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|Parent title||Channeling Mark Twain|
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Channeling Mark Twain
The pimps got on the bus at the stop just before the end of the line. The end of the line was Rikers Island and the stop before was just at the foot of a very long bridge. I’d read somewhere that the Rikers Island bridge was over five thousand feet long and before it was built the only way to reach the island was by ferryboat. Now the bridge connected the island with the City, but the largest penal colony in the United States was still remote. But not so remote, I wrote in my notebook, that pimps couldn’t manage to slouch out past the great glittering skyline, hats on their heads, to haul in their booty. I added an exclamation point, then glanced out the window. Here the East River swirled up into a curse from the days of the Dutch: Helegat, bright passage, anglicized to Hell Gate—sinister waters. Hell Gate: where killer currents swirled out from under the Triboro Bridge (I was scribbling again now) and swept around Rikers Island where it lay, between La Guardia Airport and the Hunt’s Point sewage treatment plant, between sludge pumps and the rolling sky. Between shit and heaven.
We were all riding the Hazen Street bus, which stopped daily
in front of Bloomingdale’s, in Manhattan, where I got on—then crossed the Fifty-ninth Street Bridge and trundled out through Queens, all the way to the foot of that mile-long span. Cars were not allowed on the Island, only Corrections vans, work vehicles, and prison shuttles, which looked like golf carts—and the daily bus. As we crossed the bridge, planes skidded through the clouds above us, above the flat-topped cellblock buildings—nine jails for men, one for women.