Hot topics | Coronavirus pandemic

Jerry McGill's second novel is up for a prestigious prize in Portland

Jerry McGill's second novel is up for a prestigious prize in Portland

Jerry McGill's first novel has been longlisted for the 2022 edition of Portland's Jerry McGill.

McGill's recently published ", an interracial love story set in New York City, is one of ten books under consideration for the award, which honors an American author who has not previously published a full-length novel. The $10,000 award is one of several organizations overseen by, a nonprofit that works to protect freedom of expression.

As a writer, you always dream of having these kinds of accolades, but somewhere deep in your heart, a lot of times you think, Im really not good enough to be in the category of some of these people, McGill said. Its a nice thing.

The author of "Bed Stuy" may not nominate themselves for the PEN awards, so McGill learned that his publisher Little A, was longlisted.

McGill said it smashed me over to see who has won it in the past and who is on the committee to pick it up. Other recipients of the PEN/Hemingway Award include Jhumpa Lahiri and Marilynne Robinson, Ha Jin, and Yiyun Li, respectively. Edward P. Jones, winner of both a MacArthur and a Pulitzer

McGill's first published novel, but it's his second book, following his memoir "Bed Stuy." McGill, now in his 50s, was a 13-year-old boy who was living in a sleepover on New Year's Eve when a stranger shot him in the back, paralyzing him permanently.


Rashid, a young Black man who struggles to impress Rachel, is reunited with Muriel, a sculptor who dines regularly at his Italian restaurant.

Rashid, a waiter, lives with his mother in a traditionally African American Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn. Muriel, a Holocaust survivor, is the author's default mood.

I had a couple of experiences in my life that made me think, hey, I'm really fascinated by the differences between cultures, what happens when people from different cultures try to come together to make a relationship work, and what happens when their cultures are so varied and so disparate, McGill said.

McGill does not limit his exploration of such relationships to romance. Bed Stuy opens with a scene from Rashid's childhood in which he responds differently to a significant event than his brother, foreshadowing challenges ahead.

McGill said he was attempting to get at the fact that you can have someone who looks like you and comes from your background. They can still be hurtful to you and maybe someone who can be a detriment to your life, and cause you much more pain than someone from a different part of the world.

McGill takes time to develop relationships not often described in literature or pop culture, as well as Rashid's close platonic friendships with a young Black man he went to school with, Marlon, and with his foster cousin, Stacy.

When we do see filmed depictions of Black men, oftentimes it seems to be this combative thing or this competition thing, McGill said. I dont get to see Black men supporting each other very much and portrayed as articulate, vulnerable with each other. And I just thought, I gotta show that, I want to show that in this work.

Stacy is the author of McGill's desire to write a powerful Black female voice that can help Rashid out of the way.

McGill said he loves the fact that he's in this loving relationship and that he can't tell her anything about it because he's afraid of her opinions.

Rashid and Rachel's relationship has been perceived differently by many readers, but some were disappointed, and others were, like, angry at the end. But if readers were emotionally affected, that was his goal.

I wanted readers to be touched by Rashid and Rachel's relationship, he said. I wanted them to recognize them as three-dimensional characters and I want them to understand the differences.

I'm not trying to preach to anyone about the differences growing up in different cultures and the need to accept one another, he said. But he wants people to walk away understanding why sometimes interactions are more difficult than we give credit for.


You may also like: