A Place Called Schugara

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Joe English

Guest Author

I have lived in Austin since my late 20s, when I witnessed firsthand the panic of white flight, 1970-71. In my 30s, I heard with horror Ronald Reagan denounce food stamps —    "they" were using food stamps to buy vodka. The times, they were a-changin'. 

Previously, there had been a national resolve to end poverty; political disagreements had to do with ways and means, not the end itself. Suddenly, it became acceptable and respectable to victimize the poor. Why were Americans so afraid?

In my 40s, I began wondering what it would be like to simply disappear — to leave it all behind and start anew. A character formed in my mind, an American businessman who doesn't just dream of escaping but actually does. 

As Travers Landeman came into being in my mind's eye, I discovered the Caribbean, where family and sharing remain of paramount value. Thus, A Place Called Schugara came to life, growing into a tapestry of stories that melded my newfound love of the Caribbean with one's longing to escape. 

Schugara wonders: Are we destined to follow a predetermined path or are we free to make our own way? What is our duty in the face of evil? 

Its stories show that what is taken for granted should never be taken for granted. At its conclusion, one of its characters declares that sometimes it is better to leave matters of justice and duty to God. Marguerite, Schugara's soul of grit and suffering, disagrees, "If we leave God's work to God, it will never get done. It won't even get started." 

Much out of fashion today, authorial intrusion is disparaged; what worked for Henry Fielding and Charles Dickens is seen as ill-suited for our times. With A Place Called Schugara, I reintroduce the editorial novel.  

As the author, I step into the story to comment, "The police powers of the State are always to be feared. History is replete with fugitive slave laws and Nuremberg decrees, laws against witches and laws against homosexuals. Laws may ensure liberty, but they may also enshrine tyranny."   

It is gratifying that so many readers have found these authorial intrusions one of the book's strengths, especially readers who gravitate toward nonfiction. This author is indebted as well to naturalistic writers like Theodore Dreiser, Frank Norris and Upton Sinclair. Chicago ran through their veins as the Austin neighborhood runs through mine.

My hope is A Place Called Schugara causes readers to see with new eyes. My intention was to present well-written words with meat on their bones. In Schugara, the power of love teaches redemption. Where and how do we find human decency and will it prevail? Goodness confronts evil while, at the same time, dignity and worth are found where we least expect.  

It is the writer's duty to craft the right words, but it is impossible for me to express sufficient gratitude to Bobbie Raymond, first among equals in the Citizens Republic of Oak Park. She devoted her incisive mind and critical eye to the editing of this book, investing, as she has done for Oak Park her entire life, her whole self. In the words of Zero Washington Roosevelt Lincoln, caretaker of The Yellow Harp bookstore in A Place Called Schugara, Bobbie Raymond is "ace boon coon."

I was an English professor at Triton College for 16 years. For many years I ran my own real estate company, Oak Park Real Estate, at 48 W. Lake St. in Oak Park, providing decent, safe, sanitary and affordable housing to families in Oak Park and Austin. In Schugara's final stages of formatting, the expertise and insight of Richard Jung of Minuteman Press, Oak Park, were invaluable. 

An author talk with an introduction by Mark Bazer, host of "The Interview Show" on WTTW, at the Veterans Room, Main Library, Thursday, May 31, from 7 to 9 p.m. More: oppl.org/calendar. 834 Lake St. Oak Park. English is also available for book clubs; contact: joeenglish25@hotmail.com. "A Place Called Schugara" is available at The Book Table in Oak Park and at Century & Sleuths in Forest Park.

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