Wings of Red (Paperback)

Wings of Red By James W. Jennings Cover Image

Wings of Red (Paperback)

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(fiction paperback)
An inventive and stylish debut written by a Black educator, Wings of Red is a  clear-eyed, funny, imperfect, and observant work of autofiction that grapples with the absurdity of the New York City educational system as a substitute teacher—that, in the end, reads as an ode to the city itself

June Papers is a twenty-eight-year-old MFA grad with a felony record, “the classic young, Black and gifted American misfit.” He’s also a substitute teacher. He’s also homeless. With dreams of becoming a writer, June endures a host of trials and dilemmas as he reluctantly realizes mentoring and teaching might actually be a path forward for him. 

Wings of Red is driven by June’s unique narrative style, a propulsive voice that intimately and vulnerably guides readers through the condemned external reality of a Black educator’s personal and professional world falling apart, and coming together again. 

Populated by a host of true-to-life characters who are attempting to realize their dreams despite precarious professional and financial realities, Wings of Red elucidates the fallacy of the American dream while serving as a reminder of how powerful and necessary autofiction can be. Directed at students and educators but written for any audience, Wings of Red is an inspiring and poetic tour de force and an unexpectedly necessary ode to New York City that features a texture, velocity, and immediacy that speaks to the author's authentic and lived perspective.
JAMES W. JENNINGS is a writer, artist, and educator with a BA in English from Emory University in Atlanta, and an MFA from CUNY-Brooklyn College. Originally from Hartford, Connecticut, James worked for many years as a basketball coach, substitute teacher, dean of students, and English teacher within the NYC Department of Education and on Martha’s Vineyard in the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School and the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School. James is currently promoting his novel Wings of Red, preparing his 2024 Inspirations Tour, and painting in his living room in the Highlands.

Product Details ISBN: 9781593767099
ISBN-10: 1593767099
Publisher: Soft Skull
Publication Date: November 21st, 2023
Pages: 240
Language: English
Debutiful, A Most Anticipated Book of 2023

“June . . . navigates his circumstances and city life with grit and grace.” —The New York Times Book Review

"Wings of Red captures a philosophical and spiritual awakening . . . In less-capable hands this idea—believe in your dreams even in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds—might flirt with cliché. But Mr. Jennings’ achievement here is to write about these things in a language so close to the bone that it effectively strips away the reader’s possible cynicism. A remarkable debut." —Jeffrey Condran, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

"Striking and original . . . A thoughtful meditation on artistic aspirations, financial hardship and the multiple meanings of home.” —Jackie Thomas-Kennedy, The Star Tribune

“Told in an epistolary format of journal entries, this work of autofiction invites the reader to experience the visceral immediacy of June’s life through his clever and humorous voice." —Katherine Ouellette, WBUR

"The authenticity of Jennings’ voice and his clear knowledge of what and where he writes—whether it be the exchanges he has with students, conversations with friends, the complicated family issues, his time in New York, on the Vineyard, and on the bus that gets him from the city to Woods Hole—allows readers to truly enter his world.” —Kate Feiffer, The Martha’s Vineyard Times

“[June] is a nuanced character full of humanity, and following him through the city as he navigates all sorts of existential journeys is a deeply immersive and beautiful experience.” —Sarah Neilson, Shondaland

“James W. Jennings’ Wings of Red flips the MFA novel on its head . . . Not your typical bildungsroman by any measure.” —Emily Sandstrom, Interview Magazine

“With a cast of relatable characters and witty observations, Jennings takes on the paradox that is the American Dream.” —Alex Faccibene, Geek Girl Authority

"I came to regard Wings of Red as a picaresque novel, essentially comic in spirit . . . It was Cervantes’ Don Quixote, the archetypal picaro, who brought the major comic tropes to the relation between fiction and reality . . . Cervantes looked around post-medieval Europe and wondered: what are people? He considered courage, love, loyalty, winning and losing, exultation and humiliation—and then packed these attributes into his main character. James Jennings does the same thing with June Papers.” —Ron Slate, On the Seawall

“Jennings performs a magic trick . . . While Wings of Red dances playfully at the edge of aimlessness, it carries you steadily into emotional and existential climax. A refrain of ‘this is home too’ leads June back to a self that he ultimately finds within members of his family . . . Among the most enduring takeaways offered up by Wings of Red is that the shape of progress is not fixed. You may not even know it for what it is until after you leave it behind. But once it comes, no one can take that knowing from you. They can only watch to see what you do with it.” —Gianni Washington, Chicago Review of Books

"The stylish narrative voice propels this book. Jennings’ point of view is unlike any other." —Adam Vitcavage, Debutiful, A Most Anticipated Book of 2023

"Driven by June Paper’s distinctive narrative style, Wings of Red features a compelling voice that intimately and openly leads readers through the tumultuous external world of a Black educator, both in their personal and professional life, as it unravels and eventually mends. Within this narrative, a cast of authentic characters strives to achieve their aspirations despite the precarious professional and financial challenges they face. Wings of Red not only highlights the illusion of the American dream but also underscores the potency and importance of autofiction.” —Paridhi Badgotri, Platform

“In this exciting and insightful work of autofiction, James W. Jennings lays bare the absurdities of the New York City educational system while also offering a memorable look at the beauties and burdens of the city overall . . . While the American dream may be a fallacy, Jennings’s writing reaches for something better for his characters at every turn.” —Michael Welch, Chicago Review of Books

“Introspective and spectacularly written . . . The novel expresses love for New York, a powerful opposition to stereotypes, and an intimate look into the American dream . . . An important and relevant debut.” —Clara Newton, Shelf Awareness (starred review)

"Compelling . . . The narrative voice is the main strength of Jennings' novel, pared down and energetic in the fast pace of June’s mutable life, turning more reflective and philosophical as June directly addresses readers, sharing insightful musings about his circumstances. An unexpected optimism propels June forward and the reader along with him. This is a realistic, hopeful, and uniquely told story that will engage fans of Jason Mott, especially Hell of a Book (2021).” —Booklist

"The reader will quickly sink into [Jennings'] rhythm and appreciate the lively nature of his present-tense verbiage and his quick syntax . . . A portrait of a writer that is at once harsh and tender." —Kirkus Reviews

"A gritty yet hopeful novel . . . June’s voice will hook readers from the jump with its mix of cheekiness and sincerity." —Publishers Weekly

"Much like the author himself, Wings of Red is totally unique and individual, and yet finds deep points of connection and understanding. Written for the teacher and the student in us but also the brother, mother, and friend we hope to be, this is a story that breaks all the rules in the best of ways." —Mathea Morais, author of There You Are

"Tender-hearted and tough-minded, James W. Jennings is a necessary writer for these harsh times. His novel Wings of Red records the daily life of June, a young Black man, a struggling writer, and a substitute teacher. June’s consciousness reveals the contemporary moment. Wings of Red is genuine and honest, a diaristic bildungsroman through which Jennings renders June’s past and present, as June seeks to understand his past and present. June’s startling ingenuousness and compassionate heart is beautiful and revelatory. Written in a stunning style, demolishing cliches and stereotypes, Jennings recharges writing with flair and hope: He is an original in every sense of the word. I love Wings of Red." —Lynne Tillman, author of MOTHERCARE and Men and Apparitions