“Lost Books” is a weekly series highlighting forgotten books through the prism of Tablet Magazine’s and Nextbook.org’s archives. So, blow the dust off the cover, and begin!
In 1963, John Oliver Killens, founder of the Harlem Writers’ Guild, published his second novel, And Then We Heard the Thunder—a book that, according to Tablet Magazine contributing editor Josh Lambert, quickly succeeded in “electrifying and exasperating readers across the country.” Partly based on Killens’ experience fighting in World War Two, the controversial, Pulitzer-nominated book revolved around an unlikely friendship between two soldiers—one black, one Jewish—who unite to attack the racist elements (and people) among them.
Considering Killens’ legacy, Lambert wrote:
One year before James Earl Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman died together in the name of civil rights, Killens’ mirror-image characters, Saunders and Samuels, were killing together—picking off the proponents of American racism, one by one. If Killens will be remembered for nothing else, let him be remembered at least for this: that his belief in the necessity of violent rebellion did not come at the expense of the Jews.
Read Storm Warning, by Josh Lambert
Stephanie Butnick is deputy editor of Tablet Magazine and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.