The Portland presented in Mitchell Jackon’s debut novel, The Residue Years, shares little with the popular image of today’s Stumptown. North and Northeast Portland aren’t hip neighborhoods but bywords for ghettos. Sidestepping an encounter with the police is an evening’s activity. Except for various government functionaries all the characters are African-American. That difference of perspective comes, in part, from Jackson’s experience as an African-American in the nation’s whitest city. It also comes from the story being set in a different time.
The novel never states its time frame but the story follows Jackson’s own life. In 1997, while attending Portland State University, Jackson was busted for selling crack and spent 16 months in Santiam Correctional Institution. At the same time, his mother was in the midst of a two-decade fight with an addiction to the drug. The book follows two similar people, Grace, who is once again trying to get off crack, and her eldest son Champ, who deals it and wants to buy his childhood home and bring his family together.
The Residue Years reads like hip-hop in prose, rugged and lyrical.
“Back when we were straight. When we were living with my great-grands in the house on Sixth, home, back when Mom’s checks kept me and KJ laced in new shirts and laden with toys, back when she kept a corporate job that paid a bonus, back then Mom came home at the same time day in, day out. I’d sit at my window and watch her pull up (we kept a new ride back then), and would book to the top of the steps and damn near implode waiting for her to sway through the door dressed to impress the world in wool-blend pants and silk blouse or a skirt suit with a broach pinned to her lapel, plus jewels you could hock for a new self on her fringers and wrists.”
After serving his sentence, Jackson returned to Portland State University, graduated, then went on to get two masters degrees, including an MFA from New York University. He now teaches at NYU.
Jackson will be speaking at Powell’s on September 13.
Did you grow up in North or Northeast Portland in the ‘80s and ‘90s? How was the experience in those neighborhoods different from the rest of the city?
More Think Out Loud
OPB | Sept. 27, 2016