Book Launch on Friday November 29
Douglas Gary Freeman’s life has been colored by the many instances of forced movements and self-imposed exile, which he details with literary heft in his book, Exile Blues.
The former civil rights activist’s life is framed by the extraordinary journey that has seen him run out of the US to Canada; taken from this country back to the US and then forcefully barred from Canada.
Born Joseph Pannell in Washington D.C, he grew up in the 60’s in the south side of Chicago during the time of the Civil Rights movement and became a recognized voice in the struggle.
His outspoken activism made him a target by the notorious Red Squad department of the Chicago police department. And during an altercation in 1969, Freeman shot and wounded a policeman allegedly in self-defense.
Understanding the racial dynamics in the society at the time, he fled to Canada settling in Toronto where he changed his name begun working as a librarian and started a family.
It would seem like this would have been the perfect end to his story, but no.
In 2004 he was arrested outside the Toronto Reference Library and held without bail for four years. He fought against the extradition charges leveled against him but finally agreed to go face charges in the United States – for which he was exonerated.
He then had another battle to fight: getting back home to Canada where he was barred from re-entry. He spent seven years fighting that displacement, until 2015 when he was allowed to return.
In his debut novel Exile Blues, Douglas chronicles the story of a young man, Preston Downs Junior, who has lived a similar life, having fled his home after an altercation with the police.
Set in the city of Montreal in 1968, the book details Preston’s life in exile as he is taken in by a community of revolutionaries and begins to create a life.
When a figure from his past comes onto the scene the layers begin to unfold as to his life before exile, the gravity of the losses he faced and his journey to find his place in the world around him.
Although framed as a novel, it is evident that the book is a pseudo memoir to Freeman’s life.
Literary giant and 7th Parliamentary Poet Laureate (2016 & 2017), George Elliot Clarke has praised the book as, cinematic, fast-paced, and action-packed as a classic, Blaxploitation flick. And called it the novel Malcolm X might have written had he not suffered martyrdom.
Exile Blues, is published by Baraka Books. The book launch is set for Friday November 27, at the UNIA from 6pm.