Mitchell S. Jackson
TED Fellow and Author of The Residue Years and Survival Math
“Powerful … Jackson’s prose has a spoken-word cadence, the language flying off the page with percussive energy … there is a warmth and a hard-won wisdom about the intersection of race and poverty in America.”—The New York Times
Jackson spends time speaking in prisons and youth facilities and for social programs. He has given keynote addresses, readings, and talks at institutions including Yale University, Brown University, and Middlebury College, as well as part of the TED Conference, The Sydney Writers Festival, the PEN Faulkner benefit gala.
Jackon’s debut novel The Residue Years interweaves two stories. Single mother Grace has just emerged from rehab, longing for a new purpose in sobriety, while her eldest son, Champ—a semi-autobiographical reflection of Jackson himself—starts selling crack to buy back his childhood home, a symbol of happier times. Two sides of the same coin, Grace and Champ fight for a future that’s always out of reach. Jackson is the recipient of a 2016 Whiting Award. The Residue Years won the Ernest J. Gaines Award, and was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award, the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, and the Flaherty Dunnan First Novel Prize. The book was also hailed as “powerful” and “full of impossible hope” by The New York Times Book Review. It also secured Jackson fellowships from the Lannan Foundation and the Center for Fiction. And his nonfiction work about his family, Survival Math, is due in 2017.
No Black/No White: Eradicating Problematic Identities in America
To create a more equitable America, Mitchell S. Jackson argues, we must abolish the ideas of ‘blackness’ and ‘whiteness’—as identities, and ideas.
Today, much energy is given to the critique of whiteness (and white privilege) while forsaking an essential critique of blackness. But people of colour must not let people who claim ‘whiteness’ dictate their identities. In this talk, Jackson discusses the history of ‘whiteness’ and its problematic relationship with ‘blackness,’ making a case for how the eradication of these identities might solve issues of crime and racial violence. Grounded in the ethos of personal experience, and occupying the intersection of race and poverty, Jackson’s talk may help us move toward a more humane, harmonious America.
Revision: Finding Restoration and Empowerment with Creativity
Mitchell S. Jackson understands the value of revision—in writing, as in life. Essential to the creative process, it’s also a powerful tool for both reimagining and remaking our place in the world. To Jackson, revision is a philosophy: a chance to restore, redo, and make whole.
In this keynote, Jackson asks us to remember his own friends and loved ones—men who were murdered, or had committed murder—and imagines what their lives might have looked like if they could have heeded this philosophy. He shifts the conversation about criminality and rehabilitation away from the systemic and toward the deeply personal. He enjoins those in positions of power to help the disadvantaged overcome obstacles and revise their lives. And he shows how writing and editing—the actual process of telling stories, and making them shine—can be used for intervention, restorative justice, and personal empowerment.
Prison to the Pen: Mitchell S. Jacksonâ€™s Extraordinary Journey
In this highly personal keynote, Mitchell S. Jackson tells the remarkable story of his life. He talks about his early days, being raised by a pimp, then by a single mother who was addicted to drugs for many years. He describes how he sold drugs himself, was robbed, went to prison, but then, in a triumphant turn, changed his life. And he describes his new world: that of an author, a speaker, and a professor, far from the material poverty and desperation of his upbringing, but never far from its psychic and emotional echoes.
Ultimately, with moving and gripping anecdotes, Jackson shows how the hope and pursuit of becoming a writer saved him from being a full-fledged criminal; how back-story is essential to all serious writers; and how even the most unlikely success stories are possible, with hard work, luck, and ambition.
Many many thanks again for joining us at Race Matters and delivering the keynote. Your talk was very well-received and much appreciated, which you can see from the twitter convo, as well. I'm sure you gained many new fans, and I know several people who bought your novel before and after the conference.
The Residue Years
Mitchell S. Jackson grew up black in a neglected neighborhood in America’s whitest city, Portland, Oregon. In the ’90s, those streets and beyond had fallen under the shadow of crack cocaine and its familiar mayhem. In his commanding autobiographical novel, Mitchell writes what it was to come of age in that time and place, with a break-out voice that’s nothing less than extraordinary.
The Residue Years switches between the perspectives of a young man, Champ, and his mother, Grace. Grace is just out of a drug treatment program, trying to stay clean and get her kids back. Champ is trying to do right by his mom and younger brothers, and dreams of reclaiming the only home he and his family have ever shared. But selling crack is the only sure way he knows to achieve his dream. In this world of few options and little opportunity, where love is your strength and your weakness, this family fights for family and against what tears one apart.
Honest in its portrayal, with cadences that dazzle, The Residue Years signals the arrival of a writer set to awe.
- Exclusives What Are You Reading?: Shetterly, Jackson, and Anand
- Politics When Donald Meets Hillary: James Fallows’ Pre-Debate Atlantic Cover Story
- Innovation Watch: Tech’s Top Innovators Shine on Amber MacArthur’s Bloomberg North
- Authors Margaret Atwood’s Latest? The Stunning Graphic Novel Angel Catbird