Monthly Archives: January 2019

Charles Johnson’s Buddhist Fiction

This month, for the 33rd year, Americans commemorated the birthday of civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr. Since my brain marks time by books or stories, every January I am reminded of Charles Johnson’s short story “Dr. King’s Refrigerator” that was first published in his anthology Dr. King’s Refrigerator: And Other Bedtime Stories in 2005 by Scribner.

Charles Johnson is an acclaimed scholar and author of Black American Literature. His novels and short stories often take up the theme of black life in America, but what many readers may not know is that Johnson is also a Buddhist and he infuses his Buddhist perspective into his writing. Much has been written on his novel Oxherding Tale (1982) and the follow-on, award-winning novel Middle Passage (1990), both of which are at once Black American Literature and Buddhist fiction.

I love the short story “Dr. King’s Refrigerator” because it is sweet yet dignified: a young Martin Luther King, Jr. goes to the refrigerator looking for a late night snack and some writing inspiration. The story is also deeply perceptive, as the young minister and ABD Ph.D. Candidate finds insight into the interdependent nature of our world while previewing food on the shelves of his fridge. The short story reads on one level as a mundane slice of life, and on another level as a view into the workings of a brilliant, loving mind situated in an ontologically oppressive time and place.

You can read a version of “Dr. King’s Refrigerator” on the website Mindful.org at this link: https://www.mindful.org/dr-kings-refrigerator/  The story is a wonderful reminder to be grateful that we have appliances like refrigerators, and to keep an open mind whenever we open that refrigerator door.

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Rounding Up 2018

December cracked on like lightning and before I knew it, here we are in a new year! These are a few of the anthologies and novels I missed sharing about in 2018.

Emily France. Zen and Gone. New York, NY: Soho Teen, July 2018. This is another young adult novel that incorporates Buddhism in 2018. It is good to have so many young adult lit. options to choose from with Buddhist themes, and it is also delightful that this novel is covered in a Tricycle interview with the author here.

 

Charles Johnson. Night Hawks: Stories. New York, NY: Scribner, May 2018 includes the short story “Kamadhatu” about a lonely abbot in Japan who meets a Black American Buddhist.

 

 

John Manderino. Bopper’s Progress. London, England: Wundor Editions, March 2018.  This is a novel about a guy named Bopper whose life goes sideways before he attends a Zen meditation retreat. The novel recounts a day in his life at the retreat. This is a Lion’s Roar staff favourite of Buddhist Books of 2018.