'More than lives up to the hype' Observer
'Set to become a publishing sensation' Kirsty Lang, BBC Front Row
'An astounding achievement' Sunday Times
'The lost giant of American literature' New Yorker
June, 1957. One afternoon, in the backwater town of Sutton, a young black farmer by the name of Tucker Caliban matter-of-factly throws salt on his field, shoots his horse and livestock, sets fire to his house and departs the southern state. And thereafter, the entire African-American population leave with him.
The reaction that follows is told across a dozen chapters, each from the perspective of a different white townsperson. These are boys, girls, men and women; either liberal or conservative, bigoted or sympathetic - yet all of whom are grappling with this spontaneous, collective rejection of subordination.
In 1962, aged just 24, William Melvin Kelley's debut novel A Different Drummer earned him critical comparisons to James Baldwin and William Faulkner. Fifty-five years later, author and journalist Kathryn Schulz happened upon the novel serendipitously and was inspired to write the New Yorker article 'The Lost Giant of American Literature', included as a foreword to this edition.
Born in New York in 1937, William Melvin Kelley was an African-American writer known for his satirical explorations of race relations in America. He was just twenty-four years old when his debut novel, A Different Drummer, was first published in 1962, earning him critical comparisons to William Faulkner and James Baldwin. Considered part of the Black Arts Movement, Kelley was in 2014 officially credited by the Oxford English Dictionary with coining the political term 'woke,' in a 1962 New York Times article entitled 'If You're Woke You Dig It'. He died in February of 2017, aged 79.
Every so often, a 'forgotten classic' is rediscovered around which the literary world rallies with praise and prediction of a 'Stoner effect' . . . A Different Drummer more than lives up to the hype, both in terms of its literary accomplishment and in the power of its political vision . . . Today the book offers us an unflinching study of the southern white American psyche at the cusp of the civil rights movement: its belligerence against change, the incomprehension and anger. It is woeful to think that almost 60 years later, Kelley's story seems just as timely and as urgent, but what a gift to literature that we have rediscovered it. — Arifa Akbar, Observer
Simple, timeless, mythic . . . an astounding achievement . . . still relevant and powerful today. — Sunday Times
Set to become a publishing sensation. — Kirsty Lang, BBC Front Row
Black America's lost literary masterpiece. — Observer
Astounding . . . Absolutely essential reading. — Stylist
This fierce and brilliant novel is written with sympathy as well as sorrow. It's a myth packed with real-world resonance. — Guardian
Wonderful . . . full of dazzling moments of social and psychological observation that jump from the page as if they were written yesterday. — Metro
A Different Drummer is a revelation. A story so vividly alive I closed the book a different person from the one who opened it. A vital classic of literature. — Polly Clark, author of Larchfield
Brilliant . . . The rare first novel that makes future ones seem both inevitable and exciting. — New Yorker
Despite the novel being over 50 years old it feels as relevant as ever, sitting alongside the likes of The Good Immigrant, Slay in Your Lane and Becoming. — Alexandra Heminsley, Grazia
Kelley blended fantasy and fact to construct an alternative world whose sweep and complexity drew comparisons to James Joyce and William Faulkner. — New York Times
This first novel just perhaps could play a part in changing our history. — Kansas City Star
[A] masterpiece . . . Kelley wrote intricate novels that identified with the rejection of dominant social orders. — Public Books
An exceptionally powerful and elegant first novel. — Manchester Guardian
Superbly written . . . a stunning work. — Kirkus
A rare first novel: dynamic, imaginative, and accomplished . . . It is a custom to say of first novels that they 'show promise.' But we need not say that of this one. It shows accomplishment; it shows fulfillment. — Chicago Sunday Tribune
So brilliant is this initial novel that one must consider Mr. Kelley for tentative future placement among the paragons of American letters. — Boston Sunday Herald
Beautifully written and thought-provoking . . . It will strike a responsive chord in all men of goodwill. — Baltimore Evening Sun
Superb . . . The comparisons of his debut to the books of James Baldwin and Faulkner are justified. — Irish Times