Dan Morrow, HEArt fiction editor, on D. V. Glenn’s winning story, “The Hypothetical Nigger”
It was Ralph Ellison who, with great force, explained that Blacks recede into the landscape of white America’s consciousness … and then, sometimes, into the dreamscape of their own. Ironically, at the same time, niggers don’t seem to be in scare supply. D. V. Glenn enters this terrible terrain with an unadorned and unaffected sentence structure that imbues his narrative with the qualities of a parable. His repetitive language, gracefully laced with an integrated set of images, is a wave’s swell delivering us into a maelstrom of iteration that will be quoted in anthologies for years.
“The Hypothetical Nigger” is purposely, even playfully, ambiguous. Glenn is aware that he cannot control the interpretation of his title, let alone the explanation of the hypothesis that his main character Wave, both refutes and substantiates. Pressed to talk about his childhood, Wave recounts the moment he was publicly exposed as American pariah, even as his flesh was “contracting toward invisibility.”
But he also recounts his father’s willful denial of this experience and its debilitating aftermath. Thus has Glenn encapsulated the infinite loop of experience and interpretation that confounds and damns our national conversation about race. Thus, also, has Glenn exhibited a sensibility to the canon, not simply launching from Ellison’s paradox but advancing it, nudging it forward.