flapped paperback

The Man Who Cried I Am

John A. Williams

Foreword by Ishmael Reed, with an introduction by Merve Emre

Published 24 April 2024
Fitzcarraldo Classic No. 4 | French paperback with flaps, 528 pages

Max Reddick, a novelist, journalist, and presidential speechwriter, has spent his career struggling against the riptide of race in America. Now terminally ill, he has nothing left to lose. An expat for many years, Max returns to Europe one last time to settle an old debt with his estranged Dutch wife, Margrit, and to attend the Paris funeral of his friend, rival, and mentor Harry Ames, a character loosely modelled on Richard Wright. In Amsterdam, among Harry’s papers, Max uncovers explosive secret government documents outlining ‘King Alfred’, a plan to be implemented in the event of widespread racial unrest and aiming ‘to terminate, once and for all, the Minority threat to the whole of the American society’. Realizing that Harry has been assassinated, Max must risk everything to get the documents to the one man who can help.
     Greeted as a masterpiece when it was published in 1967, The Man Who Cried I Am stakes out a range of experience rarely seen in American fiction: from the life of a Black GI to the ferment of postcolonial Africa to an insider’s view of Washington politics in the era of segregation and the Civil Rights Movement. John A. Williams and his lost classic are overdue for rediscovery.

‘It is a blockbuster, a hydrogen bomb.... This is a book white people are not ready to read yet; neither are most black people.... But [it] is the milestone produced since Native Son. Besides which, and where I should begin, it is a damn beautifully written book.’
— Chester Himes, author of Rage in Harlem

‘Magnificent ... obviously in the Baldwin and Ellison class.’
—John Fowles, author of The Magus

‘If The Man Who Cried I Am were a painting it would be done by Brueghel or Bosch. The madness and the dance is a never-ending display of humanity trying to creep past inevitable Fate.’
— Walter Mosley, author of Devil in a Blue Dress

John Alfred Williams (1925–2015) served as a medical corpsman in the Pacific Theatre during World War II, before working as the European correspondent for Ebony and Jet magazines, and covering Africa for Newsweek. Williams published over twenty books in his lifetime, fiction and non-fiction, including The Angry Ones (1960), The Man Who Cried I Am (1967) and The Most Native of Sons: A Biography of Richard Wright (1970). In 2008, the correspondence between Williams and his longtime friend Chester Himes was published as Dear Chester, Dear John. 

Ishmael Reed is the author of more than twenty-five books, including Mumbo Jumbo, Yellow Back Radio Broke-Down, and most recently The Man Who Haunted Himself.

Merve Emre is director of the Shapiro Center for Creative Writing and Criticism at Wesleyan University and a contributing writer at the New Yorker.