“I have an awful memory for faces, but an excellent one for voices,” muses Joubert Jones, the aspiring playwright at the center of Divine Days. A kaleidoscopic whorl of characters, language, music, and Black experience, this saga follows Jones for one week in 1966 as he pursues the lore and legends of fictional Forest County, a place resembling Chicago’s South Side. Joubert is a veteran, recently returned to the city, who works for his aunt Eloise’s newspaper and pours drinks at her Night Light Lounge. He wants to write a play about Sugar-Groove, a drifter, “eternal wunderkind,” and local folk hero who seems to have passed away. Sugar-Groove’s disappearance recalls the subject of one of Joubert’s earlier writing attempts—W. A. D. Ford, a protean, diabolical preacher who led a religious sect known as “Divine Days.” Joubert takes notes as he learns about both tricksters, trying to understand their significance.
Divine Days introduces readers to a score of indelible characters: Imani, Joubert’s girlfriend, an artist and social worker searching for her lost siblings and struggling to reconcile middle class life with her values and Black identity; Eloise, who raised Joubert and whose influence is at odds with his writerly ambitions; (Oscar) Williemain, a local barber, storyteller, and founder of the Royal Rites and Righteous Ramblings Club; and the Night Light’s many patrons. With a structure inspired by James Joyce and jazz, Leon Forrest folds references to African American literature and cinema, Shakespeare, the Bible, and classical mythology into a heady quest that embraces life in all its tumult and adventure.
This edition brings Forrest’s masterpiece back into print, incorporating hundreds of editorial changes that the author had requested from W. W. Norton, but were not made for their editions in 1993 and 1994. Much of the inventory from the original printing of the book by Another Chicago Press in 1992 had been destroyed in a disastrous warehouse fire.
“Life has no more astute observer than Leon Forrest.” —Toni Morrison
“The War and Peace of African American literature.” —Henry Louis Gates Jr.
"Writers such as Saul Bellow, Ralph Ellison and Toni Morrison have known about Leon Forrest for years, and one hopes 'Divine Days' finally will establish him in the minds of the people he has been chronicling for almost a generation." —Chicago Tribune (1992)
“With enormous energy and an uncanny range of oral styles—from high-flown preaching to down-and-dirty slang—this remarkable fourth novel by Forrest takes more than 1,100 pages to recount one week in the life of Joubert Jones.” —Publishers Weekly
“The technique of the novel is boldly musical. Mr. Forrest prefers to lay his symbols out clearly, so the reader consciously watches him do his stuff the way an audience listens to chorus after chorus of jazz inventions on a standard song's melody and chords.” —New York Times
“A work of range and scope, power and beauty . . . featuring a cast of characters truly Joycean in their larger-than-life proportions.” —Martin Brady, Chicago Sun-Times
“Almost every page of Divine Days offers abundant evidence that Leon Forrest is a writer of virtuosity and power . . . A landmark in the artistic representation of social and historical reality, a rich and complex entertainment that deserves our praise, respect, and gratitude.” —Arnold Rampersad, New York Newsday