How MK Asante Saved My Life with “Buck”

Okay, okay. My title is little dramatic. I like dramatic titles, sue me. But honestly, I read an advanced copy of “Buck” by M.K. Asante while at my job. I always rummage through the mock library for new literature. I never really look for anything in particular, just something that catches my eye. This particular book stood out to me: it had no cover artwork. It just said:

BUCK

A Memoir

MK Asante

And other less important book sale date jargon.

There was no forward. No epilogue. No opening dedication. No author bio. At this time, I had NO idea who this Asante fellow was. Everything was just TK (which is “to come” in editor lingo). What in the absolute hell is this book about? All I know is that I have an affinity for memoirs and books about urban life. “MK Asante” sounded pretty ethnic to me, so the book seemed like a win/win. So I grabbed the book off the shelf, flipped to the first page of the first chapter and skimmed. I couldn't even make it past the first two sentences: “The fall in Killadelphia. Outside is the color of cornbread and blood.” Yup. Definitely ethnic. Corn bread?? I was in love immediately. I had to close the book, stuff it in my bag and jet to the train station. I had to be seated and comfortable before diving in, because I knew I would quickly be enveloped in its pages. My commute out of the city is almost two hours. Perfect.

I don’t remember what page I got up to by the time I got off at my stop, but it wasn't very far. I had to force myself to stop. Not because it was bad. Not because I was disinterested or distracted. I was far from it. I needed to wait until I got a highlighter. The language he used in just the first chapter had me creasing pages to remember every point I saw awesome verbiage. I had a lot of creases. And it’s funny. I used to shake my head at people who wrote in their books. For me, anything as permanent as a book should not be defaced. It lowers the value. The book should remain intact, as if it were never even touched. Or so I thought until “Buck.” Now I know how much value it gave my reading experience. I never expected to be getting more intimate with a book and a highlighter than with a man (the struggle is real).



Asante made it so that all my senses were engaged while reading. You realize just how observant he probably is. And just how much time he probably spends in his mind; quiet, watching and thinking. Here are a handful of things I highlighted:


“Uzi is the color of walnuts and has a long, sharp face like the African masks my dad hangs up everywhere.”

“He’s got a pug nose with freckles spread across it like crumbs.”

“Amir is tall and skinny with skin the color of my mom’s coffee—black, one cream, no sugar.”

“My hands are in my pocket rubbing lint. I’m broke. Mom’s broke. Dad’s broke. Uzi’s broken.”

“I realize that school and education don’t go hand in hand, that school and education can be as distant or as close as sex and love.”

No, I will not provide page numbers or chapters because I want you to find these passages on your own.

My friend Noelle had him as a professor at Morgan State and I’m freaking jealous. I wish I had him as a teacher. Or at least a mentor or something. I wish I was familiar with his writing a little earlier on. I know I’d be a more imaginative writer, who doesn’t think so damn hard when she writes. I find myself thinking so hard of what to write instead of just writing what I think. Trust me, it’s a much harder concept than it seems because you want it to be perfect. You forget it starts with what you think. If you don’t think in color, you won’t write in it. I know I have vibrant things to say, but I haven’t figured out how to disable my filter quick enough yet. It’s like the story’s protagonist, Malo, when he took his first creative writing class. Asante basically managed to author my whole life in this one passage:

“I am a blank page. Holding the pen this way, snug and firm in my fist, makes me feel like I can write my future, spell out my destiny. But I can’t write. So many things I want to write, but my pen is stuck, trapping my words like water under an ice block. The distance between my mind and the page feels like it could be measured in light-years. ‘It’s like there’s a wall.’

‘You don’t need to be great to get started, but you need to get started to be great.’ She sees my pen in the block of ice.”

The teacher said, “Just write,” and he was clueless as to how. He had thoughts swirling left and right. Deep, shallow, some rhyming, some not. Memories, current observations, a sea of feelings. But he couldn't write anything. That’s me. I get so stuck. But then I think, Malo is MK. And look what he created? Eff a writer’s block, that was a cement WALL, yet he got through it and wrote things like “Buck.” This book is now up at the top of my favorite books list, mainly because of how much it resonated with my story, the one I have yet to write.

Also because of how beautifully it was written. No fluffy, over intellectual language, yet still captivating. Word play was on point. And the fact that it was HIS story. Or at least convinced me that it was.

Either way, it was amazing at the very least. Inspiring. Now I want to get a Masters in Creative Writing in the next few years. I know there’s more to give, I just need people to teach me how to give it without being so technical. How to be an MK. A young writer who’s pen game KILLS (He’s like 30, come ON, I can do it too).

I tip my hat to you, Mr. Asante. Thanks for giving me what I needed at this point in my life. A great story about your great story that needed to be told. I needed that.

Everyone else, GO BUY THE DAMN BOOK. NOW.

Comments

  1. I picked my advance copy late one night, thinking I might squeeze in a few chapters before falling asleep, and wound up finishing the whole thing that evening. Like you, I was totally floored by the gorgeous phrases just flowing all over the book's pages. I've been recommending Buck left and right and hope that it finds its way to as many readers as possible. Wonderful review!

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