M A R C
A N T H O N Y
R I C H A R D S O N
M E S S I A H S
A fiercely ecstatic tale of betrayal and self-sacrifice
Messiahs centers on two nameless lovers, a woman of east Asian descent and a former state prisoner, a black man who volunteered incarceration on behalf of his falsely convicted nephew, yet was “exonerated” after more than two years on death row. In this dystopian America, one can assume a relative’s capital sentence as an act of holy reform—“the proxy initiative,” patterned after the Passion.
The lovers begin their affair by exchanging letters, and after his release, they withdraw to a remote cabin during a torrential winter, haunted by their respective past tragedies. Savagely ostracized by her family for years, the woman is asked by her mother to take the proxy initiative for her brother—creating a conflict she cannot bear to share with her lover. Comprised of ten poetic paragraphs, Messiahs’ rigorous style and sustained intensity equals agony and ecstasy.
Messiahs is a fever dream of storytelling. It explores racism and interracial conflict, the deadly prison industrial complex, climate emergency, social death, and more in prose that unfurls like waves of sound. Bleak, though not without hope, challenging, though with numerous rewards along the way, innovative from start to finish, Messiahs is a marvel.
MacArthur Fellow and author of
Annotations and Counternarratives
Praise & Reviews
In Messiahs, Marc Anthony Richardson gives us an innovative, intelligent, and insightful take on several American obsessions, including punishment, incarceration, and the death penalty. As much as this layered narrative presents a warning about things to come, it also offers a profound examination of rebirth, redemption, second acts. All in all an unnerving, uncanny, and challenging read on many levels, but well worth the effort.
Jeffery Renard Allen
Guggenheim Fellow and author of
Rails Under My Back and Song of the Shank
Messiahs is slim and so rigorously self-contained, and yet it has everything. The whole time I was reading it, I had a mysterious and lovely bell tolling in my head: Clarice Lispector, Clarice Lispector . . . and her questions of how do—can—we unselve? Empathy’s potentialities, and its limits, are constantly engaged in this book, and in this way, it goes beyond the excellent political commentary on the criminal justice system. At one point, Richardson writes that ‘sustained intensity equals ecstasy,’ and that is both the style of the writing and of the reader’s experience of this book: it sends you back to the first chapter as soon as you finish the last page.
Slater Orchard and
Corinna A-Maying the Apocalypse
Green Apple Books (in-person)
In conversation with Carolina DeRobertis
San Francisco, CA
6 pm PST / 9 pm EST
August 25, 2021
Bard College (in-person)
Contemporary Innovative Fiction Reading Series
Marc Anthony Richardson
Marc Anthony Richardson is an artist and novelist from Philadelphia. He is author of Year of the Rat, winner of an American Book Award, and the recipient of a Creative Capital Award, a PEN America grant, a Sachs Program grant, and a Hurston/Wright fellowship. He teaches creative writing at the University of Pennsylvania.