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Redmond Funeral Home is a low-slung brick building in this small town in southern coastal Virginia. He still puts in hours there, though fewer since his crime novels began to appear on national best-seller lists. He drives the hearse; he picks up the bodies. Cosby, who goes by Shawn, is a big, gregarious, bearded man in a small black cap; his hands move in his lap when he speaks. Cosby compares the antry of a Black Southern funeral to a second line parade in New Orleans, solemn yet boisterous.

His novels are also about fathers and sons, and sex and race and class, and the stain of Southern history. As a Black crime writer in the rural South, Cosby is an anomaly. The nearby Emmaus Baptist Church was founded in by his ancestors. Afternoon is blurring into evening, and the heat is easing off. He and his wife both grew up poor. The first thing he bought with book money, he tells me, starting the car and laughing, was an electric recliner. The chair has a heated seat and other extras.

Cosby writes in it in the evenings, sitting next to Kimberly in their living room while she watches TV. Cosby grew up in nearby Mathews County. His father worked on a scallop boat in the Chesapeake Bay. His mother, who was partially disabled, mostly raised him and his brother, alone in a trailer, getting by with the help of food stamps. Other family members lived nearby. Cosby pulls in behind a defunct bar along Route When Cosby was a kid, the bar was called Club 14, and it was the most popular Black bar in the county. He spent his childhood trying to sneak into it, and he succeeded often enough.

He saw his first bar fight when he was He grew to know, and understand, the kind of florid characters who would later populate his fiction. Racism in this part of Virginia was pervasive. Cosby recalls being made to write essays about how the Civil War was a war of Northern aggression. A Confederate statue stood outside the county courthouse. Cosby was, he says, saved by reading. The first thing he recalls writing was a werewolf story, composed in sixth grade, that was so gruesome it got him sent to the school psychiatrist.

He had good teachers in high school, and read everything he could get his hands on: the Beats, Theodore Dreiser, Nikki Giovanni, James Baldwin. He kept attending classes, though, until he was told he had to stop coming. After some years of what he calls wandering, Cosby ended up back in Mathews County.

He credits that job with settling him down, getting him insurance, turning him into an adult. He still wrote, however, and he talked books with some of his customers. One ran a bookstore and encouraged him. This was around We drive past the lot where the local Tastee-Freez used to be.

So does he. In the fall of , she went to perform in Manhattan and ended up in a bar called Shade in Greenwich Village. The bartender that night, Todd Robinson, was the publisher of Thuglit, a magazine of hard-core crime fiction. Before long he was publishing regularly in Thuglit.

He and the agent amicably split, and the book ended up being published by a small outfit called Intrigue Publishing. Cosby kept writing, hundreds of short stories, and the small breaks kept coming. The next occurred at a crime writing symposium in Florida. Cosby was onstage with several other writers when a woman stood up and began praising the manners and morals of the antebellum South.

He did want to take that one. A Manhattan literary agent, Josh Getzler, was in the audience. The two began working together. Cosby credits Getzler with changing his life. The best thing about spending time with Cosby is talking books with him. He appears to have read everything, and he still has strong opinions about it all. John Irving and Donna Tartt are in his pantheon. David Foster Wallace? These include, he says, some East Coast academics. Books S.

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