Book review: ‘Insurrections’ by Rion Amilcar Scott

insurrections-coverI recommend the story collection Insurrections by Rion Amilcar Scott.

The stories offer glimpses of life in the fictional town of Cross River, Maryland, a largely black settlement founded in 1807 after the only successful slave revolt in the United States.

In “Good Times,” a troubled man with a wife and child finds his way back into the good graces of his family through the help of a neighbor and a ratty old Cookie Monster costume. In “Everyone Lives in a Flood Zone,” a man searches for a brother who is linked to criminals in a flooded out section of town and finds unexpected solace with strangers.

And in “Juba,” a young man is mistaken for a pot dealer named Juba, and gets arrested. Angered, he tracks down Juba and finds not only a pot dealer, but a man on a mission to capture and save the dying language of Cross River. He is even translating the Bible into the language that used to be spoken by the black residents of Cross River.

What Scott achieves with this story, and many others in the collection, is to let readers experience the strangeness and joy of these kinds of unexpected encounters. The narrator of “Juba,” for example, is on his way to a job interview when he is arrested. The  police action—they throw the narrator to the ground when arresting him—echoes the kind of violence against black people in America that has given rise to the social media hashtag #LivingWhileBlack. That Scott is able to take his story (and his readers) through  such an undercurrent of social injustice and violence, while also bringing his narrator deeper into a drug world, and toward concerns of language, and not just language in general but a specific kind of language of a people in a specific (if fictional) place that is being lost.

What an amazing place to take a story. Scott is a writer that earns a reader’s trust and willingness to go wherever his stories lead. It is one of the main reasons why spending time in Cross River is so enjoyable. Check out the book now. You can buy it from the publisher, University Press of Kentucky. A new collection of Cross River stories, titled The World Doesn’t Require You, is slated for publication in 2019.

Rion Amilcar Scott won the 2017 PEN/America Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction for Insurrections. His website is and you can also find him on Twittter at