Portrait of the artist as a young counterculturalist of the 90s

Sky Papers
by Jamika Azlon

Jamika Azlon’s “Sky Papers” begins when things fall apart for the young protagonist of the same name. It’s mid-September 1992, and Skye sits with a notebook in Washington Square Park, attempting to reconstruct the last year of her life in all its drug-filled, lust-driven, big-mistakes glory. does.

The story flashes back from there:

Skye is a high-achieving motherless queer black kid from the St. Louis suburbs. A University of Chicago dropout, she hotfooted it in New York on the strength of Greyhound hookups. There she, luckily, comes across a pair of glamorous bohemians, Scotty and Pieces, who take Skye into her fold as they travel from artist’s studio to squat, rave to houseboat, New York to London to Amsterdam.

Once in London, Skye (a poet), Scotty (a musician) and Pieces (a painter) form their own small art movement. They oppose capitalism, planning spectacular waves in their Brixton squat (“trashed palace”) and breaking into the city’s art scene. Skye learns to live on the shoplift, bask and pasta – in short, to make that crucial break that the poet Fernando Pessoa once said “organized society

Art begets art in the form of these characters, inspired by the scene and each other, in their warehouse squat remixes, freestyle and poetry. The soundtrack is Garage & Soul, Cypress Hill, P-Funk, Nirvana; It’s impossible not to feel the touch elevated. hints at a utopian future.

or does? Intertwining with Sky’s narrative are supernatural moments: artificial surveillance reports, strange coincidences, seemingly anachronisms that call into question the credibility of the narrator. A mystery – whose full import is not revealed until the jaw-dropping final volume – bleeds into consciousness, a Borgesian enigma in which we catch glimpses of familiar events through a different lens.

Meanwhile, Skye looks like a free spirit but has an interiority that doesn’t quite match up. “I was me,” she thinks, “a proud genius brought up as one of the 10 percent, and now practically begging for money.” Throughout the novel, she writes what another character calls her “Lil Black Kerousian Adventures”, ranging from the shy notebook-jotter of Skye’s movements grainy to spectacular flop for the non-self-conscious producer to opening Mike Barnburner. is an expression. “Husky brass notes have rhyming, punctuation, and notes sliding on the beat. The celebratory sound gripped my throat,” Skye thinks in a murmur. “I forgot I was there with other people. Or it felt like we were one person running on the same energy. There was only ‘us’.”

Ultimately, “Sky Papers” asks: What does it mean to accept yourself as an artist, while also understanding how many compromises you are making under capitalism? If to be an artist is to be aware, then what happens to the artist whose consciousness is compromised? As Azlon explores these questions, she repeatedly invokes other renditions of the artist’s drawings, from “On the Road” to Audrey Lorde’s “Zami: A New Spelling of My Name” to De La Soul. By “The Magic Number”.

“Sky Papers” may be Azlon’s first novel, but he’s a seasoned artist: a Sonic Slam poet, composer, multimedia artist and filmmaker with an enviable back catalogue, which is evident on every page. From the rhythmic, ruffing, grotesque prose to the novel’s cinematic crosscutting and recurrent structure, to the daily struggles of Skye and her friends as a cast, we get lost in a world that Azlon is a precise and lyricist. Presents with what takes away her main character. .

There’s an image at the beginning of “Sky Papers” I keep coming back to – Skye, after deciding to leave her high school boyfriend, sits by the lake in Chicago. She is about to throw something consequential, when she is distracted by two men hooked on to the rocks below. “I thought about my session with Scotty at Greyhound,” Skye writes. “Started getting ideas about New York. More impulsive than planned. A quick fix for a sad heart.” I’m not convinced by Skye’s assessment of her young self. Is she impulsive or is she an artist, who Inexplicably attracted to beauty and freedom?

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