Delilah Leontium Beasley (1871-1934), an American writer, became the first person to document the history of California’s black pioneers with her landmark book The Negro Trail-Blazers of California, self-published 100 years ago. Beasley was a pioneer in other ways as well. She held the distinction of being one of the first African American women to write a column in a major metropolitan newspaper, the Oakland Tribune. As a self-made historian and journalist, she envisioned a copy of her book in every public library in California.
Trailblazer: Delilah Beasley’s California resurrects Beasley’s legacy by reimagining her life through the fiction of writer Dana Johnson.
“There is an exquisite tension in each of the stories in Dana Johnson’s remarkable collection – couples who look past each other instead of into each other, women who try to negotiate upward mobility, wanting what you can’t have and having what you don’t want. Johnson has, truly, written an unforgettable collection. She is both a storyteller and an exacting observer of the beautiful ugly truths of Los Angeles, class, race, being alive.”
— Roxane Gay, author of An Untamed State and Bad Feminist
“In her brilliant collection, Dana Johnson presents a vision of America that is singular and necessary. These are superb stories grappling with the complexities of love and the way it winds through gender and race and class in our nation right now. Johnson is expert at exploring how the world tries to separate us – and how her characters find urgent ways to connect. These are stories radiant with beauty and compassion and clear-sighted, uncompromising wisdom.”
— Karen E. Bender, author of Refund, a finalist for the National Book Award.
“Newer than tomorrow, the stories in In the Not Quite Dark illuminate the travails of contemporary life faced with aspects of gentrification – social, economic, racial, even sexual. Johnson is the poet of the uneasy place between rising and falling, the pressures of status and humiliation, the precarious moral footing we are all navigating now. A sharp-edged portrait of Los Angeles, and ourselves.”
— Janet Fitch, author of White Oleander and Paint It Black
“What a gift to have a new collection of hard-to-shake stories from the inimitable Dana Johnson. She writes about the contradictions of our contemporary moment with an honesty that is gimlet-eyed, rueful, and often wickedly funny. But along with implacable honesty there are also deep reserves of generosity in these stories, each one taking our hearts to places we don’t see coming and can’t readily forget.
— Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum, author of Ms. Hempel Chronicles, a finalist for the Pen/Faulkner Award
“In these haunting and beautiful stories, Dana Johnson conjures a definitive portrait of contemporary Los Angeles. Her native eye is infallible, and her voice reigns over the city with grace, wit, and total authority.”
— Jim Gavin, author of Middle Men
“Beautifully wrought. A contemporary Bildungsroman with a wise and winning heroine at its heart.” –T.C. Boyle
“Johnson’s Elsewhere, California is a clear-eyed jam on class, race, and love; sassy yet searing.”
–Oscar Hijuelos, author of The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love
“Avery’s evolution as a black woman trying to claim her place is as heartbreaking as it is humorous, powerful as it is poignant, because Johnson so assertively confronts those complexities.”
—The Los Angeles Times
“Dana Johnson’s extraordinary novel offers an arresting vision of black female identity that transcends color and class even as it reveals its continuing power in our lives. The main character, Avery, is everything at once: struggling and middle-class, black and not-quite-black-enough, sexually invisible and sexually exoticized. Avery is about as complex and compelling a heroine as I’ve read recently, and Elsewhere, California is a luminous, funny, and poignant tale that speaks directly to a whole generation raised in a state of cultural confusion.”
—Danzy Senna, author of You Are Free and Caucasia
“I love listening to Avery talk about anything and everything, from the Dodgers to the art world to neighborhood negotiations to certain brands of shorts. Here is a character with an intensely engaging voice, surrounded by an equally riveting cast, all created by a writer who knows how to make words— and people— sparkle on the page.”
—Aimee Bender, author of The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake
Reviews of Break Any Woman Down, winner of the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction
“This is an exciting and gorgeous literary debut.” –Jonathan Ames, author of The Extra Man
“You can hear Johnson’s voices ringing long after you put the stories down…No character could stay a stranger long in this writer’s hands.” –Los Angeles Times
“Deftly achieves both art and amusement…Johnson’s ability to coax the heart as much as the mind…marks the author as a storyteller at her most potent.” –Seattle Weekly
“Rich, unhurried layering showcases [Johnson’s] larger themes…Both hip and elegant, these assured stories…simmer and resonate.” –Publishers Weekly