Cecil Brown’s first work, The Life and Loves of Mr. Jiveass Nigger (1969), was the story of a young man from the rural South who ventured forth to test himself and to learn about life, first in Harlem and later in Copenhagen, Denmark. Although, as Richard Rhodes pointed out in The New York Times Book Review, Brown’s book reflected the influence of such novels as James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1914-1915) and Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man (1952), most critics thought that The Life and Loves of Mr. Jiveass Nigger lacked the intellectual depth of the author’s models and was little more than a summary of the protagonist’s sexual exploits.
If, as has been suggested, The Life and Loves of Mr. Jiveass Nigger was largely autobiographical, it is evident that during the two decades between its publication and that of Brown’s third book, Coming Up Down Home, Brown learned to view the events of his own childhood with the detachment of an accomplished artist. Ironically, Brown exhibits less self-consciousness in his memoir than he did in his first venture into fiction. Moreover, over the years Brown seems to have replaced his youthful cynicism with a profound perception of the complexity of human motivations and the unpredictability of human life. As a result, it appears likely that Coming Up Down Home, which has been called by one critic “a work of classic proportions,” will place Brown among the best of African American writers.