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Authors: Charles Johnson

Dreamer

P
RAISE FOR
Dreamer

—Dennis McFarland,
The New York Times Book Review

“[Johnson's] important new novel … takes bold, creative risks, bringing off many unlikely feats, and [Johnson] is sage enough to let the story do most of the work. He delivers a lively tale that leaves the reader with enormous concerns to contemplate.”

—Andy Solomon,
The Boston Globe

“Johnson … writes with a compelling profundity and power. Like Shelley's “Prometheus Unbound” and the Gospel writers, Johnson takes us to a time, one within living memory, when a ‘dreamer' among us saw love as our redemptive principle and strongest weapon before he ‘died for our collective racial sins.'”

—John Marshall,
Seattle Weekly

“A deep look at the last two crisis years in the life of [King] … Johnson is an ambitious writer who is not satisfied with merely creating … passages of imagined thinking, however powerfully rendered.”

—Bruce Barcott,
The Seattle Times

“Masterfully rendered set piece … writing so assured and compelling … even when you already know the ending.”

—Meg Laughlin,
The Miami Herald

“A noble undertaking … what hooks you is the charity and magnitude of the philosophical message and how Johnson sticks with it…. Johnson can write about a tragic death and a universe ‘engraved with inequality' and still manage to restore your faith.”

—Richard Bernstein,
The New York Times

“Ambiguous, Conradian eeriness … themes rich and developed by Mr. Johnson with his usual stylishness … consistent high quality of writing.”

—David Hinckley,
Daily News

“Johnson … weaves both the hope and the doubt into Dreamer, a short but sweeping novel … for everyone in Dreamer, life comes down to a series of tests revolving around elements as common to King's double and volunteers as to King himself: faith, love, hope, fatigue, doubt. Johnson marks these tests subtly and well.”

—Oscar Hijuelos, author of
The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love
, winner of the Pulitzer Prize

“Charles Johnson's Dreamer is a beautiful and heartfelt novel of substance; intriguing and cleverly rendered, it has a plot that entertains even as it throws a light on the life of Martin Luther King during that epoch of America's struggles with civil rights.”

—James McBride, author of
The Color of Water

“Magnificent, and like everything Charles Johnson does, deep and funny. As a writer, he goes places few of us dare to go. He's one of the most gifted writers I've read and is an inspiration to all writers.”

—Robert Olen Butler, author of
A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain
, winner of the Pulitzer Prize

“Compelling and profound, Dreamer is a book fully equal to its monumental subject, Martin Luther King Jr. Charles Johnson is one of the great treasures of modern American literature.”

—David Guterson, author of
Snow Falling on Cedars

“With this new book Charles Johnson confirms his position at the summit of American letters. Dreamer is an inspired and glorious achievement, infused with its author's expansive wisdom, his vibrant historical and moral imagination, and most of all, his heart. It is a transcendent, brilliant book.”

ALSO BY CHARLES JOHNSON

FICTION

Middle Passage

The Sorcerer's Apprentice

Oxherding Tale

Faith and the Good Thing

CRITICISM

Being and Race: Black Writing Since 1970

ESSAYS

Black Men Speaking
(coedited with John McCluskey Jr.)

DRAWINGS

Half-Past Nation Time

Black Humor

DREAMER

CHARLES JOHNSON

SCRIBNER PAPERBACK FICTION
New York London Toronto Sydney

SCRIBNER PAPERBACK FICTION
Simon & Schuster Inc.
Rockefeller Center
1230 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10020
www.SimonandSchuster.com

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 1998 by Charles Johnson

All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.

First Scribner Paperback Fiction edition 1999

SCRIBNER PAPERBACK FICTION
and design are trademarks of Simon & Schuster Inc.

Designed by Brooke Zimmer

Set in Fairfield

Manufactured in the United States of America

5 7 9 10 8 6

The Library of Congress has cataloged the Scribner edition as follows:

Johnson, Charles Richard, 1948-.

Dreamer : a novel / Charles Johnson.

p.   cm.

I. King, Martin Luther, Jr., 1929-1968—Fiction. I. Title.

PS3560.O3735D7 1998

813′.54—dc21   98-10201

CIP

ISBN-13: 978-0-684-81224-3

ISBN-10:   0-684-81224-X

ISBN-13: 978-0-684-85443-4 (Pbk)

ISBN-10:   0-684-85443-0 (Pbk)
eISBN 13: 978-1-439-12552-6

To the memory of Lee Goerner

of Martin Luther King, Jr.,
and James R. Ralph Jr.'s “Home Truths: Dr. King and the Chicago Freedom Movement” (
American Visions,
Aug./Sept. 1994).

I must also acknowledge my indebtedness to my agent, Anne Borchardt, for her brilliant advice; Dr. Rudolph Byrd for taking
me to King's birth home; poet Sharon Bryan for accompanying me to the King Memorial at the Lorraine Motel; Joyce Carol Oates
for providing the Henry Adams definition of politics; Dr. Ricardo J. Quinones for placing in my hands a copy of his invaluable
book,
The Changes of Cain;
Eknath Easwaran for his voluminous writings on the life of the spirit; to Guy Murchie's
The Seven Mysteries of Life;
philosopher Scott Kramer for helping me remember the '60s; poet Ethelbert Miller and filmmaker Jon Dichter for spiritual
support; Gray Cassidy for his martial-arts expertise; Janie Smith for her hours spent typing the manuscript; and my wife,
Joan, for her bottomless knowledge about the Book.

A
CKNOWLEDGMENTS

Acknowledgment is gratefully made to the books and people without whom this novel could not have been written. Of special
importance are Stephen B. Oates's superb
Let the Trumpet Sound,
David L. Lewis's King:
A Critical Biography,
Lerone Bennett Jr.'s
What Manner of Man,
Coretta Scott King's
My Life with Martin Luther King, Jr.,
James H. Cone's
Martin & Malcolm & America,
John J. Ansbro's
Martin Luther King, Jr.: The Making of a Mind,
Keith D. Miller's
Voice of Deliverance,
David Garrow's three-volume
Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement,
Mark Lane's
Code Name Zorro,
James Earl Ray's
Who Killed Martin Luther King?,
John A. Williams's
The King God Didn't Save,
Julius Lester's
Search for the New Land,
Noel Leo Erskine's
King Among the Theologians,
volumes 1 and 2 of
The Papers
of Martin Luther King, Jr.,
and James R. Ralph Jr.'s “Home Truths: Dr. King and the Chicago Freedom Movement” (
American Visions,
Aug./Sept. 1994).

I must also acknowledge my indebtedness to my agent, Anne Borchardt, for her brilliant advice; Dr. Rudolph Byrd for taking
me to King's birth home; poet Sharon Bryan for accompanying me to the King Memorial at the Lorraine Motel; Joyce Carol Oates
for providing the Henry Adams definition of politics; Dr. Ricardo J. Quinones for placing in my hands a copy of his invaluable
book,
The Changes of Cain;
Eknath Easwaran for his voluminous writings on the life of the spirit; to Guy Murchie's
The Seven Mysteries of Life;
philosopher Scott Kramer for helping me remember the '60s; poet Ethelbert Miller and filmmaker Jon Dichter for spiritual
support; Gray Cassidy for his martial-arts expertise; Janie Smith for her hours spent typing the manuscript; and my wife,
Joan, for her bottomless knowledge about the Book.

MEISTER ECKHART

“The Pauper has to die before the Prince can be born.”

GENESIS 4:5

“But unto Cain and to his offering the Lord had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell.”

MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.,
Strength to Love

“If you sow the seeds of violence in your struggle, unborn generations will reap the whirlwind of social disintegration.”

GENESIS 37:19-20

“Behold, this dreamer cometh. Come now therefore, and let us slay him, and cast him into one of the pits, and we will say:
Some evil beast hath devoured him; and we shall see what will become of his dreams.”

P
ROLOGUE

In the Upsouth cities he visited, violence followed him like a biblical curse, but one step ahead of his assassins. Despite his clerical vows, or perhaps because of them
(I am come to send fire on the earth, Luke 12:49),
he walked through a world aflame. Chicago in the hundred-degree summer heat of 1966 was the site for the special form of crisis his wing of the Movement produced: families divided, fathers at the throats of their sons, brothers spilling each other's blood. Unhappily, I have the eloquence of neither Guido the Angelic nor Teresa of Avila, and so with each halting sentence I pray for the words to demonstrate how this was the beginning of his northern crusade to undo the work of the Devil. This was the battlefield, a modern plain of Kurukshetra, where in the midst of a shooting war between Richard Daley's police and black snipers on the West Side (two were dead, hundreds were in detention), he
composed that electrifying speech, “A Knock at Midnight,” read for him by friends at St. Peter's Cathedral, seeing how he was stretched so thin, there in Chicago, that he couldn't fly as scheduled to Geneva and instead spent three hellish nights rushing from one burning slum to another, pleading until 4 A.M. with both armed camps for peace.
It is … midnight in our world, and the darkness is so deep that we can hardly see which way to turn.

He was tired by the time the Movement reached the North. His life had always belonged to others. For ten years he'd been God's athlete, traveling nearly eight million miles (one-fourth the distance to Mars) back and forth across a country as divided as it had been during the Civil War, giving thousands of speeches in churches where he was celebrated as the heir of Thoreau—or better as the North American mahatma (Great Soul), meeting with presidents and heads of state, performing more eulogies for the Movement's martyrs than he cared to remember, leading his generals in the siege of one southern town after another, flying to Africa, then to India, and five years before to Oslo to accept the Nobel Peace Prize with a team of federal agents right on his heels, as they always were, closer even than his own heartbeat, he sometimes felt, though you had to wonder where they were and what the devil they were doing when that Harlem madwoman, Izola Curry, plunged a Japanese letter opener into his chest. Or when his Montgomery home was bombed, nearly killing his young wife and baby Yolanda.

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