Fist, Stick, Knife, Gun Critical Context - Essay

Geoffrey Canada

Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Canada has a rare combination of traits: knowledge born of personal experience, the literary skill to tell his story effectively, and a zealous desire to make a crucial difference in children’s lives. For this reason, most critical reaction to Fist, Stick, Knife, Gun was highly favorable. Reviewers praised Canada’s straightforward, descriptive prose and his passionate advocacy for personal and systemic reform. The Christian Science Monitor, for example, described Canada’s book as “an urban coming-of-age story. Part memoir, part social reform advocacy.”

Some reviewers complained that Canada does not outline a sufficiently concrete program of reform. Actually, he does offer a detailed proposal for a government program focusing on the ubiquity of handguns, a program that includes licensing, insurance against injury, ammunition identification, and gun buybacks. In a larger context, he proposes the creation of a “peace officer corps” (not a police unit) and the adoption of measures designed to reduce the demand for drugs, the prevalence of domestic violence, child abuse and neglect, and the glamorous portrayal of violence on television and in movies. Canada has spent his adult life working with youth, bringing demonstrable results in individual lives. For this work he has received awards from numerous sources including the Heinz Family Foundation and his alma mater, Bowdoin College.