Politics is a serious business–and it’s no secret that at The Nation, we’re pretty darn serious about it. But politics is also a highly entertaining blood sport, rife with scandal and street theater, gossip, gaffes and the exquisite tension that exists between fact and fiction on the campaign trail.
This week marks the debut of something new for The Nation: Citizen Kang: Love, Death and Politics from LA to the Beltway, a serialized novella pegged to Campaign 08. Written by Los Angeles novelist Gary Phillips, who is known among mystery buffs for noir fiction with a social conscience and a sharp satirical edge, Citizen Kang is political fiction interwoven with political fact.
Taking a page from Dickens and Twain, Phillips’ novella unfolds in weekly episodes in our Campaign 08 section from now until Election Day. (Bookmark this page: It’s the best way to see our comprehensive coverage.) Gary’s main character is Cynthia Kang, a fortysomething first-term, Asian-American Congresswoman from Los Angeles with big ambitions–and big trouble. Kang finds her re-election campaign clouded by the suspicious death of her political mentor, unruly relatives and uncomfortable public questions about her sexual preferences.
As the story line unfolds, Gary will weave in bits and pieces of political and cultural reality on the road to the White House. (Episode 1, “Wide Stance,” gives a wink to Larry Craig, introduces Cynthia Kang, her campaign and her sexual issues, and invokes the ghost of James Brown.) Though he’s firmly in control of the story, he invites readers to comment on a discussion board and make suggestions about what kinds of political reality to inject into the narrative. Read more about it here.
Already, Citizen Kang is making an impact in the corners of the blogosphere to which mystery buffs are drawn. Here’s how Gary explained the project to The Rap Sheet last week:
It was my idea. In October of ’06, I, along with several people representing a cross-section from various arenas, including the nonprofit sector, organized labor and academe, attended a meeting that Nation Editor and Publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel and Walter Mosley called together at The Nation‘s offices on the edges of [Greenwich] Village. The idea was to discuss ways to expand the pool of contributors to the magazine as well discuss ways of broadening out who reads the magazine. It ain’t no surprise that The Nation‘s research shows it’s mostly whites of a certain age, education and income bracket who subscribe to the magazine.
Post that meeting, I pitched–via a written proposal–Katrina on the idea of doing a political serial. We went back and forth, knowing that there’s really no room in the pages of the magazine itself, even given [that] it’s a weekly, to do this sort of thing. But she dug it enough that she discussed it with the online editor, Joan Connell, and it was agreed I’d write Citizen Kang for the magazine’s Web site.
My inspiration, aside from Dickens, Dumas and Twain, who, among others, wrote serials in newspapers, was Robert Altman and Garry Trudeau’s Tanner ’88 (more so than [its 2004 sequel] Tanner on Tanner). That was an HBO series done in a kind of mockumentary style that followed Congressman Jack Tanner as he sought the presidential nomination. Initially, my idea was that Congresswoman Cynthia Kang would run for the presidency in ’08 as an independent, as matters such as questions about her sexuality, the supposed suicide of her mentor and other such obstacles arose.
But given the craziness of all these early primaries, and the reality that to be viable you need at least $400 million to run, it seems too far-fetched to have Kang run for the presidency. But there’s plenty of intrigue and demented delicacies that will unfold as Citizen Kang kicks into gear. Plus, my tongue will be planted firmly in my cheek as these episodes unfold. I mean, if we took politics too seriously, we’d cry, right?
We’ll try not to cry. And each Monday, when a new episode appears, we’ll look forward to sharing a sardonic laugh–and some insights–as this talented novelist tells a noirish, knowing story of what he so rightly describes as “the sweet hustle of politics.”