Guest Post from Lee Jenkins

Guest Post from Lee Jenkins

I’m so delighted to be part of the book tour for Rights of Passage, the story of a young black man finding his way through school, college, work and romance. It’s a fascinating read and I asked Lee Jenkins to share the ‘why’ of the book’s story…

Why I Wrote My Novel, Right of Passage & How I went about Writing It

By Lee Jenkins

I wrote this novel because of a compulsion to tell something of the story of my life. It is autobiographical in many respects, but the action, storyline and characters are to a large extent creations. What the reader sees has been imagined, not something set down as events that actually happened and are being recalled.


I’m a middle-class African American who was brought up in Florida. I benefitted from a good educational system at the time, even though it was racially segregated. I saw examples of accomplished black educated people confronting the denigrations and obstacles of racism and segregation. In their thinking and behavior they demonstrated how not to be bound by these limitations. Such people existed within my family and in my neighborhood.


Nevertheless, there were instances of dysfunctional behavior in my family that had an undermining and distorting effect upon my development and sense of self. I was blessed in many ways, and I had to struggle in others to maintain my emotional equilibrium. I wanted to show something of the internal struggle of an African American male trying to make his way in life, even as he confronts the additional burdens of the opposition encountered because of his race.


The story therefore presents the immersion in life of the main character, as he graduates from high school, goes off to college, and then eventually to graduate school where he receives the Ph.D. degree. The novel presents what happens to him as he is engaged in this journey, encountering people and circumstances that both encourage and undermine his hopes for himself.


I wanted to show the development of such a character into adulthood. I wanted to show the rich and unusual life he experiences in meeting extraordinary people and accomplishing his career objectives. He undergoes the rites of passage that help define character and make available a productive life. He experiences an unusual situation when he makes the choice of entering into an interracial relationship with a fellow student that eventually results in marriage, the birth of a child, and the promise of a fulfilling life.


The novel also depicts some of the conflicts of the 1960s Civil Rights movement and Vietnam War era, and the social change that was beginning to occur. A new ethos reflecting the prospects of human egalitarianism was being explored, and the sense of a world-wide global community was being envisioned, in which others different from oneself might be met with a desire to understand rather than to condemn. Racism was under assault. Militarism, nationalism, colonialism were waning and no longer seen as inevitable expressions of nationhood. Looked at from today’s vantage point, we can see how such change is still underway, still met with opposition in many quarters.


I went about writing this story by following the force of my intuitive perceptions. When I write, a lot of the material has already been unconsciously processed, and my task is to consciously organize it with respect to the recognition and interrelations of themes; the identification and making distinct of characterizations; the selection and creation of the events that will anchor and drive the story; and the managing of the process of the selection, arrangement and, when needed, elimination or deletion of material.


I have been both a professor and psychoanalyst all of my professional life. I was always busy, doing many things and writing as well, material that was not fiction. But I kept my novel in mind (I write poetry as well) and would take delight in writing in those moments when I had free time, usually on weekends. I also often might write at 6:00 in the morning, upon awakening, when my mind was most clear and the pressure of what had unconsciously occurred the night before was still eminent and being experienced in terms of newer, more powerful or more interesting ideas. This would be the time to determine the best way to make use of this fresh, more insightful or more balanced view of things.


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