The Williamsburg Courier’s Steve Witt’s Debut Novel
Stephen Witt is something of a perfect model for the 21st Century writer. He has taken on the hefty task of creating his own publishing company, Never Sink Books, and self-publishing his first novel, American Moses on the imprint. What makes Witt such a great example of today’s new breed of writers? His commitment to do-it-yourself approach is a breath of fresh air in an industry that struggles to find its footing, and adapt to the times. What makes Witt’s approach even more interesting, is that instead of looking to the bigger publishing houses for inspiration, Witt just heads to places like the Fulton Mall and Harlem Book Fair for ideas on how to self-publish. “I’ve always been interested by the African-American business models in urban literature and hip-hop,” Witt said. He finds himself talking to many of these self-published writers, some of whom boast sales of up to two to three hundred thousand copies. Witt also goes on to note a laundry list of iconic writers whose first works were also self published — from Mark Twain to Charles Dickens. “God bless them all.” He says, “I’ll take their company any day of the week.”
American Moses is a rich and imaginative work; one that speaks of every-day topics like family, religion, and racism. Following Southie Lewis, his family, and the congregants of the town synagogue that has been burnt down, American Moses evokes the story of its biblical namesake as Southie leads his people through the desert that resembles more of a modern-day The Grapes of Wrath. In the group’s journey to the promised land of Las Vegas, one can find the last vestiges of the American dream, the feeling that maybe the characters are searching for something more than a place to live. One glimpse at the authors history can attest to the fact that American Moses is, to Witt, a very personal work—especially when he mentions that he still considers himself a “proud Midwestern boy” who grew up in the very town that we are told the main character of American Moses comes from.
As the name suggests, the book has ties to the story of Exodus. Stephen Witt is aware of this, and aware of the books Semitic-slant. He even mentions that the book had been rejected by certain publishers for being “too Jewish”. And while Witt himself notes the fact that he is a secular Jew, the struggle faced by the Jews (as well as all other oppressed people) is felt all throughout his book, but what makes Witt’s storytelling so special, is that the book doesn’t discriminate or alienate — Witt has the ability to tell a tale of human struggle through the eyes of a person who happens to be Jewish. Moving to New York originally to be a folk singer, Witt found himself in his own series of personal struggles, and Southie Lewis as the “town’s local bottom-scrubber, comes from the writers own humbling experience living as a subway musician, working manual jobs, and even living on the streets. And while those times seem to be past the Brooklyn writer, he has somehow harnessed his memories, and they have helped create the words of this wonderful debut novel.
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