A New York Times bestseller, Finding Fish is the remarkable story of an African American boy abandoned in an abusive foster home in Cleveland who rises to liberation, manhood, and extraordinary success (in Hollywood).
Born in prison to a single mother after his father was shot and killed, Antwone Fisher soon became a ward of Cleveland's foster care system. By the time he was five years old, he had been transferred to several different families. Eventually he came to live with the Picketts, an older couple with grown children of their own.
During his stay with the Picketts, which lasted until he was 17 years old, Antwone suffered near-constant verbal and physical abuse at the hands of 'Mizz Pickett', and sexual abuse from a neighbour. The damage to his self-esteem was tremendous, yet Antwone managed to resist the gang-like behaviour and drug use that so many of his friends were engaged in. Finally he fled and before long he was living on the streets, homeless. Again rescuing himself, he enlisted in the Navy, where he created a 'family' for himself and with the help of a Navy psychologist worked through his past. After he left the Navy, while working as a security guard at Sony Pictures in Hollywood, he told his story to one of the executives there, who encouraged him to write his life as a screenplay.
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December 02, 2002
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Excerpt from Finding Fish by Antwone Quenton Fisher
This beginning part is for my father. This is your story. I wasn't there but I put it together from what the family remembered. And from what I dreamed. You may think it's not my place to tell. Maybe so. But aside from your blood that's in me, this story's just about all I have of you. I guess that makes it mine, too.
The year was 1959, the time a Thursday morning, the second Thursday of June. This was in Cleveland -- the kind of big midwestern city that made for a good place to raise kids and dreams. The economy was thriving then thanks to the motor companies, the steel mills, tool-and-dye factories, and the other industries springing up across the landscape every which way but north, where the great, ominous expanse of Lake Erie is all that the eye can see.
Cleveland in the 1950s was a proud place, a righteous place. A brand-name city -- Ford, Republic Steel, White Motors, Fisher Body, Stroh's beer. A family city. It was work and church. It was a ball town. Football and baseball. Especially baseball. It was music, too. Gospel, doo-wop, jazz, blues, and the symphony. It was the birthplace of Superman.
Cleveland was already a big city, on its way, at one point, to reaching number five on the list of largest cities in America. But to men like Horace Elkins, Sr., a hardworking father of eight, it still had that small-town, friendly feeling. True, he liked to keep himself and his family close to home, safe in the bounds of the Glenville area. This was the working-class, predominantly black neighborhood near the lake, nestled comfortably between the main arteries of St. Clair and Superior, which were linked by 105th Street, forming an I shape. Up and down 105, as it was called -- at the grocers, the five-and-dimes, thrift stores, barbershops, mom-and-pop record shops, clothing, shoe, and liquor stores, and in the neon-lit lounges -- residents and merchants were on a first-name basis. On the street, strangers were scarce.
Horace knew and trusted his neighbors; they knew and trusted him. More than trusted, they looked up to him. A man felt good to walk proud among his own. Nothing made Horace more proud than his family. That's why he was forever telling his sons, "Get yourself a rib." Find a woman, settle down, raise children, be a man.
Friendly and small-town it could be, but Cleveland living was hardly easy. Like the weather and the work, the temperament was harsh. And Horace also understood there was an air of danger in the daily hum -- something seductive but lethal. He wondered sometimes if that sense came from the Choctaw in him, the way he always felt on guard. When he could, Horace liked to shake those superstitions. They represented the old ways, the primitive beliefs brought up from Arkansas, where he was raised, and the slave ways that went back to the Elkins, West Virginia, plantation where the slavemaster Elkins had passed his surname to Horace's stepfather, who insisted Horace change his name from Barnett to Elkins. They were ways not of living but only surviving that had migrated north with his people and stayed with them, even after they left behind the plantations and reservations.
Horace fought the old ways that lurked inside him because he wanted more from life than a subsistence diet of fear and faith. So he fed himself an education, in night classes and on his own, studying the works of Shakespeare and Edgar Allan Poe and the philosophers from throughout the ages. Through philosophy, literature, science, music, and art, Horace Elkins became a learned man, a free man, a doctor of medicine, in fact, and, in spite of the modest apartment on Parkwood Avenue in which he and his family lived, a kind of noble man.
Knowledge, to him, was power and redemption. Knowledge, that is, and the Catholic Church. The Elkinses were strict Catholics. This, too, for Horace, was a further rejection of the old ways. But even so, he couldn't entirely rid himself of ancient instinct. Sometimes, those uneasy feelings had to be heeded.
Rising at 4:30 a.m. that Thursday, as he did every day in order to catch the bus on time that would carry him to the first of his two jobs, Horace woke to the shattering blast of a gunshot. He sat up, waiting for the aftermath. But nothing. A dream, that's all, he thought. Too vague to mean anything.
Horace washed and dressed quickly and went into the kitchen, where Emma had already prepared his breakfast and was setting it out for him on the kitchen table. He took his seat, bowed his head in silent prayer, and then began to eat.
Emma went back to the stove and stood watching her husband, waiting to see if he needed anything. For a moment, she was young again -- before nine babies -- back in Forest City, Arkansas, looking for the first time at Horace, the light-skinned young man with his Choctaw warrior nose, who bowed as they were introduced, saying, "Hello, Miss Emma."