What Randy Stark has been reading

Feeding the Dragon, a play by Sharon Washington, published 2019 by Oberon Books. Also available as an audio file by Audible.  (To hear the play and/or purchase the book, click here.)

What’s the book about?

Set primarily in New York City in the early 1970’s, when a working class still existed there, before NYC became a theme park, a city walk, a land for corporations and foreign investors to park their millions and billions, Feeding the Dragon is an autobiographical coming-of-age story about an African American girl (Sharon) and her family who live in apartment above a public library where her father is the custodian. His job comes with living quarters on the top floor of the building, inaccessible to the public, and one of his tasks is to shovel coal into the large furnace (the “dragon”) in the basement of the building, to keep it going 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The family motto was, “Don’t let that furnace go out.”

It is also a story of family secrets, forgiveness, and the power of language. In an interview the author made this observation: “The contributions and sacrifices my family, as well as many other poor working-class families made, are in danger of being forgotten.” But this beautiful play is assurance that they will be remembered.

What did you especially like?

Because this is a script as well as a memoir, it is almost all dialogue by, among, and between Sharon, her family, and the world. And the dialogue is especially good. Scenes move from ultra-urban New York City to more rural South Carolina. “Characters,” in the figurative and literal sense, inhabit both locales, and the author brings them to life through dialogue.

A couple of examples:

When Sharon wins a scholarship to an affluent private school where race and class will set her apart even more than being the “new girl,” she gets this advice from her mother: “Don’t call too much attention to yourself. Don’t go in there showing your color. Be polite.”

On the other hand, when the story moves to the rural South from where Sharon’s parents migrated, here is how a farmer responds to her request for a sweet watermelon to take home to her father and the relatives they were staying with: “I sure will pick out one fuh yuh. You tell yo’ Daddy these here are special today. I put some sugar in the ground with the seeds. Make sho’ they sweet.”

Did you dislike something in particular?

There is not much to dislike except that, being a one-act play, it had to end in too short a time.

What would you tell a friend about this book?

Sharon Washington has stated “It’s important to me that today, in this very divisive atmosphere in our country, that we try to find commonality. That we stop seeing people different from us whether because of race, class or gender as ‘the other.’”

I would say if you want to read (or hear) a story about real people at a real period of time in real places, a story that could have been suffused with anger and bitterness but instead is written with—dare I say it?—love, compassion and understanding, and can be both heartbreaking and funnier than all get out, then you should click on this link and you’ll get an opportunity to hear a performance of the play and/or purchase the book, as well as learn more about the author.

Will you read it again?        

If I were to need an example of writing dialogue, I would turn to this script.