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Alexs Pate: Novelist/Performer

published on September 13, 1994
in Skyway News

"Alexs, like all good artists, speaks with a specific voice. But when he speaks specifically, he makes the universal very clear," said Minneapolis impresario Ralph Remington about novelist-performer Alexs Pate.

The universal is so clear in Pate's first novel, "Losing Absalom," published last spreing by Minneapolis' Coffee House Press, that it has national critics more than just taking notice. The book was named Best First Novel by the black caucus of the American Library Association. And "Absalom's" sales are so stellar, according to its publisher, that another publishing house is clamoring for paperback rights.

Set amid 20th century urban Philadelphia, the novel uses simple, precise language to tap the emotions and experiences of a black family faced with the fatal illness of their father.

His second book, "Children With Missing Fathers," is due out in a couple of years. Two other projects are underway: "In the Heart of the Beat: A Critical Anthology of Rap Poetry" (for Coffee House Press) and a novel about a black pirate. Coffee House publisher Allan Kornblum said he expects that Pate will land a deal with a major publisher in the future.

Pate's contemporaries say that he, along with performance collaborator and author David Mura, has used the power of the pen and determination to clear the path fr other Twin Cities authors of color.

J. Otis Powell, a Minneapolis African American writer, said "Pat is one of few artists who has attained success with his heritage intact. Writing the book was one struggle against selling out; getting attention from agents and critics was the other. [Alexs and David] have persevered through a lot of obstacles. That they have done it is encouragement."

Powell, a close friend of Pate's since 1989, said Pate's work at the Loft and as a performance curator has helped him, too. An article penned by Pate in the Loft's newsletter inspired Powell to explore the writing center. And Pate's curatorial work at Intermedia Arts sparked his interest in performing in and planning arts showcases.

He's somebody who's ahead of me in terms of what he has accomplished as a writer," Powell said. "And he can give me good feedback about what's happening in my career."

Remington, whose older cousin was Pate's boyhood friend in Philadelphia, described Pate as a paradox of street smarts and bookish intellectualism. "You see it come out in his use of colloquialism and slang and the way he mixes it with intellectual theories and philosophy," Remington said.

This fall, and beyond, Pate will continue to make his presence known in the Twin Cities and throughout the nation. Remington is is directing Pate's new play, "Multiculti Boho Sideshow," this winter. Remington describes the piece as "an epic under the guise of a comic murder-mystery about the Twin Cities posers on the arts scene and their mad rush for the multicultural dollar."

It'll likely cause a few folks to duck, just as Pate and Mura's performance piece "Colors of Desire" did at the Soutern Theater, where it was performed last January. That piece, about racism in America, is currently in production for broadcast on public television some time next year.

Before attaining his current fame, Pate had reached the executive peak in corporate America as a communications person at Control Data Crop. That experience informs some of his writing in "Absalom." Now a speaker in high demand, Pate's readings consistently draw capacity crowds. It's unlikely Pate will ever go back to being a nine-to-fiver— all the better for us.

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