Fourth Estate has triumphed in a seven-publisher auction for a “stunning” debut work on family and migration, If I Survive You, and a second book, by Jonathan Escoffery.
Editorial director Kishani Widyaratna acquired British Commonwealth rights, excluding Canada, in physical, e-book and audio to If I Survive You and Play Stone Kill Bird, from Rachel Clements at Abner Stein, on behalf of Renée Zuckerbrot at Massie & McQuilkin.
Escoffery is the winner of the Paris Review’s 2020 Plimpton Prize for Fiction. His “humorous and often harrowing” debut work follows a family that escapes political violence in Jamaica only to face complex problems of a different sort as they attempt to build a life in Miami.
The publisher said: “Written in stunning prose, If I Survive You masterfully explores the dislocation of migration, the conflicting meanings of Black American identity and the driving search for home for all those who have ever felt like outsiders.”
The second book, Play Stone Kill Bird, takes its name from a Jamaican proverb that loosely means actions taken in play can have unintentionally dire consequences for others. A “hilarious and brilliantly satirical” novel, it follows a professor of African American history who gets drawn into working at a secretive themed resort run by white millionaires on a private island. It is billed as perfect for fans of Paul Beatty, Kurt Vonnegut or Percival Everett.
If I Survive You will publish in hardback in autumn 2022, in a co-ordinated campaign alongside FSG Books which pre-empted the rights in the US and McClelland & Stewart in Canada.
Widyaratna said: “If I Survive You is a gut punch of a book that blew us all away with its beautifully complex and heart-wrenching portrait of the Jamaican diasporic experience, its lethal sense of humour, and its masterful storytelling. The novel to come, Play Stone Kill Bird, promises to be exhilaratingly original and hotly debated. In both books, Jonathan crafts strikingly contemporary stories shadowed by a collective past that haunts both his characters and us, his readers. He is an extraordinary writer and we are proud to welcome him to the Fourth Estate list.”
Escoffery’s family emigrated to the US from Jamaica and he was raised in Miami. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota’s Creative Writing MFA Program. Winner of the 2020 Plimpton Prize for Fiction, he is also the recipient of a 2020 National Endowment for the Arts (Prose) Literature Fellowship. He has taught creative writing and founded the Boston Writers of Color Group.
He said: “As someone who writes about Jamaica and its people on and off the island, it is incredibly important to me that my first two books have found a wonderful publisher in the UK, home to so many diasporic Jamaicans and West Indians. I’m thrilled to join Fourth Estate’s list, which includes many luminaries who I admire, and I am especially excited to work with Kishani Widyaratna and her team to realise my creative vision and see it reach as wide a readership as possible.”