GRT 2021: Deacon King Kong

About Deacon King Kong

In September 1969, a fumbling, cranky old church deacon known as Sportcoat shuffles into the courtyard of the Cause Houses housing project in south Brooklyn, pulls a .38 from his pocket, and in front of everybody shoots the project’s drug dealer at point-blank range. 

The reasons for this desperate burst of violence and the consequences that spring from it lie at the heart of Deacon King Kong, James McBride’s funny, moving novel and his first since his National Book Award-winning The Good Lord Bird. In Deacon King Kong, McBride brings to vivid life the people affected by the shooting: the victim, the African-American and Latinx residents who witnessed it, the white neighbors, the local cops assigned to investigate, the members of the Five Ends Baptist Church where Sportcoat was deacon, the neighborhood’s Italian mobsters, and Sportcoat himself.  

As the story deepens, it becomes clear that the lives of the characters–caught in the tumultuous swirl of 1960s New York–overlap in unexpected ways. When the truth does emerge, McBride shows us that not all secrets are meant to be hidden, that the best way to grow is to face change without fear, and that the seeds of love lie in hope and compassion. 

About James McBride

James McBride HeadshotJames McBride is an award-winning author, musician, and screenwriter. His landmark memoir, The Color of Water, published in 1996, has sold millions of copies and spent more than two years on the New York Times bestseller list. Considered an American classic, it is read in schools and universities across the United States. 

McBride has been a staff writer for The Boston Globe, People Magazine, and The Washington Post, and his work has appeared in Essence, Rolling Stone, and The New York Times. His 2007 National Geographic story “Hip Hop Planet” is considered an important examination of African American music and culture. 

A noted musician and composer, McBride has toured as a saxophonist sideman with jazz legend Jimmy Scott, among other musicians. He has written songs for Anita Baker, Grover Washington Jr., Pura Fé, Gary Burton, and even for the PBS television character “Barney.” (He did not write the “I Love You” song for Barney, but he wishes he did.) He received the Stephen Sondheim Award and the Richard Rodgers Foundation Horizon Award for his musical Bobos, co-written with playwright Ed Shockley. His 2003 Riffin’ and Pontificatin’ musical tour was filmed for a nationally televised Comcast documentary. He has been featured on national radio and television in North America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. 

AuthorTalk with James McBride

Greenwich Library is thrilled to welcome James McBride, an award-winning author, musician, and screenwriter, to discuss his book Deacon King Kong on Wednesday, October 27 at 7:00 pm.

Explore Further

  • Winner of the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Fiction 
  • Winner of the Gotham Book Prize 
  • One of Barack Obama’s “Favorite Books of the Year” 
  • Oprah’s Book Club Pick
  • Named One of the Top Ten Books of the Year by the New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, and TIME Magazine 
  • A Washington Post Notable Novel 

LEARN

Suggestions for Further Reading

Younger readers can also be a part of this year’s GRT program! Discover and read books, compiled together by Greenwich Librarians, with themes similar to those in Deacon King Kong: Books for Grades K-6  |  Books for Young Adults.

A community-wide reading experience that engages all of Greenwich in exploring books.

Greenwich Reads Together Steering Committee

Greenwich Library

Greenwich Alliance for Education

Greenwich Arts Council

Greenwich Historical Society

Greenwich Pen Women

Greenwich Public & Independent Schools

Perrot Memorial Library

Retired Men’s Association of Greenwich

Greenwich Reads Together is supported by the Friends of the Greenwich Library.

Past Greenwich Reads Together Selections

Just Mercy

By Bryan Stevenson
Just Mercy is a powerful true story about the potential for mercy to redeem us, and a clarion call to fix our broken system of justice—from one of the most brilliant and influential lawyers of our time. It is at once an unforgettable account of an idealistic, gifted young lawyer’s coming of age, a moving window into the lives of those he has defended, and an inspiring argument for compassion in the pursuit of true justice.

Mountains Beyond Mountains

By Tracy Kidder

This compelling and inspiring book shows how one person can work wonders. In Mountains Beyond Mountains, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Tracy Kidder tells the true story of a gifted man, Dr. Paul Farmer, who loves the world and has set out to do all he can to cure it. At the heart of this book is the example of a life based on hope and on an understanding of the truth of the Haitian proverb “Beyond mountains there are mountains”–as you solve one problem, another problem presents itself, and so you go on and try to solve that one too.

Learn More

Fahrenheit 451

By Ray Bradbury
Fahrenheit 451 is a dystopian novel by American writer Ray Bradbury, first published in 1953. Often regarded as one of his best works, the novel presents a future American society where books are outlawed and “firemen” burn any that are found.

Learn More

Code Girls

By Liza Mundy
Recruited by the U.S. Army and Navy from small towns and elite colleges, more than ten thousand women served as codebreakers during World War II. While their brothers and boyfriends took up arms, these women moved to Washington and learned the meticulous work of code-breaking.

Learn More

News of the World

By Paulette Jiles
In the wake of the Civil War, Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd travels through northern Texas, giving live readings from newspapers to paying audiences hungry for news of the world. An elderly widower who has lived through three wars and fought in two of them, the captain enjoys his rootless, solitary existence.

Learn More

Station Eleven

By Emily St. John Mandel
Kirsten Raymonde will never forget the night Arthur Leander, the famous Hollywood actor, had a heart attack on stage during a production of King Lear. That was the night when a devastating flu pandemic arrived in the city, and within weeks, civilization as we know it came to an end.

Learn More

Americanah

By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Separated by differing ambitions after falling in love in occupied Nigeria, beautiful Ifemelu experiences triumph and defeat in America, while Obinze endures an undocumented status in London until the pair are reunited in their homeland 15 years later.

Learn More

Boys in the Boat

By Daniel Brown
Brown’s robust book tells the story of the University of Washington’s 1936 eight-oar crew and their epic quest for an Olympic gold medal, a team that transformed the sport and grabbed the attention of millions of Americans.

Learn More

When the Emperor Was Devine

By Julie Otsuka
This is a story told from five different points of view, chronicles the experiences of Japanese Americans caught up in the nightmare of the World War II internment camps.

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Zeitoun

By Dave Eggers
In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, longtime New Orleans residents Abdulrahman and Kathy Zeitoun are cast into an unthinkable struggle with forces beyond wind and water.

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The Book Thief

By Markus Zusak
Trying to make sense of the horrors of World War II, Death relates the story of Liesel – a young German girl whose book-stealing and storytelling talents help sustain her family and the Jewish man they are hiding, as well as their neighbors.

Learn More