Evans D. Hopkins

Evans D. Hopkins

A weeklong electronic journal.
June 26 1997 3:30 AM

Evans D. Hopkins

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       I ride to work with my father in his truck, and most mornings I insist on driving in an attempt to lessen the stress on him. This morning I take a shortcut past the high school I helped to integrate 26 years ago, and I recall the walkout of black students I led 26 years ago--an event which got me suspended, and on the road to radicalism.
       We pass a road gang from the City Correctional Farm, the young men using mowers and modern weed-eaters (instead of sling-blades) on the grass and weeds along the right of way, as an armed sheriff watches. ...
       "Look at that," says my 76-year-old dad, "every one of those boys is black. Now I know they all have done wrong, but just as many whites' boys are doin' wrong too." This observation from the man I once rebelled against because of his conservative "colored" views. "You know, I believe they got into the black communities just trying to catch blacks doing wrong, just so they can lock them up."
       Now at my father's desk, typing up my notes on a computer lent to me by a cousin. Pops owns and operates a sizable landscaping business with a 35-year history. Though he has toiled past retirement age so that he might turn the firm over to me, he's given me his office space " 'cause it looks like you can make more money with that writing business you do than you can in landscaping."
       While "that writing business" is doing well (I've several magazine assignments, a book deal forming, and I'm talking to a couple of film and stage producers), I still worry about Pops, who has worked 10 to 12 hours a day, six days a week, for as long as I can remember. I know it's time for me to take over things--but I am discovering that time in the "real world" is much different from time as spent in prison.
       Trying to settle into the life of an artist, along with the responsibilities of family, has been challenging, to say the least. While I feel that there is a higher purpose to my writing, there is an almost primordial necessity to take care of family. And I know that there is guilt involved here, with me having been away for so very long.
       Writing about this now, I am reminded of the double-consciousness of writing nonfiction about oneself, and of the psychological conflicts involved with trying to balance work in fiction, film, and for theater. But I've the memory of struggling just to get a page written, many days, amidst the insanity of prison. Art--or at least the attempt to create art--kept me sane then, and put me on the road from rage to redemption. After all that, what I'm going through now is a joy.

Evans D. Hopkins now writes from Danville, Va. He has contributed reportage and commentary to a variety of publications, including The New Yorker and the Washington Post, and is at work finishing an autobiography/prison memoir and a novel.