“Writing on the Wall: Selected Prison Writings of Mumia Abu-Jamal” edited by Johanna Fernandez— Revolution at Work

writing on the wall

Abu Jamal, Mumia. “Writing on the Wall: Selected Prison Writings of Mumia Abu-Jamal”,  (City Lights Open Media), edited by Johanna Fernandez and with a foreword by Cornel West, City Lights, 2015.

Revolution at Work

Amos Lassen

In his foreword Cornel West tells us that Mumia Abu Jamal’s writings are a wake up call… “He is a voice from our prophetic tradition, speaking to us here, now, lovingly, urgently. Black man, old-school jazz man, freedom fighter, revolutionary—his presence, his voice, his words are the writing on the wall.” I can’t really find much to say after that but I will try.

Mumia Abu-Jamal has been one of our most important voices to speak out against racism and for total emancipation of his people. He has said what those who have been silenced by chronic racism, impoverishment and injustice have not been able to say and he has done so for decades and from behind the bars of American prisons.

“Writing on the Wall” is a selection of more than 100 previously unpublished essays that bring Mumia Abu-Jamal’s essential perspectives on community, politics, power, and the possibilities of social change in the United States. He writes of Rosa Parks, Edward Snowden, The Trail of Tears to Ferguson, Missouri, and whatever he writes addresses a sweeping range of contemporary and historical issues. Most of these pieces were written during his years of solitary confinement on Death Row and they are a testament to Abu-Jamal’s insight, and these essays are filled with hope, encouragement and faith that redemption will come. He echoes the great Black writers of the past—David Walker, Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Du Bois, Paul Robeson as well as the voices of his sisters and brothers “who kept the faith with struggle, who kept the faith with resistance.”

He offers us new ways of thinking about law, democracy and power and he lets us think about transformation. The writings are not just forceful and outrageous but they are often humorous as well. His writings are also diverse and they are relevant. He can write about the plight of black farmers and 9/11 and we immediately sense where he is going. He shares his thoughts on the central figures in the black political narrative from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to Trayvon Martin. He sometimes uses radical-left gamesmanship like when he questions the Brown v. Board of Education ruling.

This collection spans from 1982 to 2014 and these l essays show the effects of incarceration on mind and spirit. Abu-Jamal remains enraged and pessimistic about an America that, in his view, has been and remains wholly corrupt: ‘[Blacks] know from bitter experience that while Americans may say one thing, they mean something quite different.’

Obviously his isolation is what nurtures his ideas of revolution. He has been held in solitary confinement for nearly 30 years and he remains a loud and clear voice for all who suffer injustice, racism, and poverty.

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