The Man Who Cried I Am

John A. Williams

Foreword by Ishmael Reed, with an introduction by Merve Emre

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

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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. 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.

‘Sixty years after it was first published, this shocking novel takes us on an astonishing black global journey that is historical but feels totally alive, energized and contemporary.’
— Bernardine Evaristo, author of Girl, Woman, Other

‘[A]n idiosyncratic, rancorous compound of roman à clef, sociocultural history, bildungsroman, and international thriller complete with an apocalyptic ending that patched disquietingly into our worst nightmares of what white America ultimately had in mind for us. Imagine a chronicle with the sweep, breadth, and momentum of Honoré de Balzac’s Lost Illusions morphing plausibly into one of Eric Ambler’s darker and more acerbic spy melodramas. Only with Black people – sad, mad, and fiercely articulate – in the foreground.’
Gene Seymour, Bookforum

‘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

‘It’s an immensely entertaining, wacky novel with an impishness and melancholy that deals with mortality, as well as the then controversial subject of interracial relationships; and that, in some way, prefigures the paranoiac mode of much American cinema and literature of the 1970s. A great rediscovery.’
— Bartolomeo Sala, Something Curated 

John Alfred Williams (1925–2015) published over twenty books in his lifetime, fiction and non-fiction, including The Angry Ones (1960), The Man Who Cried I Am (1967), The Most Native of Sons: A Biography of Richard Wright (1970), Captain Blackman (1972), and !Click Song (1982). He was the Paul Robeson Professor of English at Rutgers University and won the American Book Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2011.

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.