Nathan McCall has a life that most authors would envy. If one were to stroll across the campus of Emory University, where he is now a lecturer in the Department of African American Studies, they might find him in his office preparing a speech about the life lessons he discusses in his books—books that fall under three different categories: autobiography, personal essays, and fiction— and sit on the shelves of bookstores across the county.
Prior to the release of his first book, the autobiography Makes Me Wanna Holler: A Young Black Man in America, McCall was a reporter for The Virginia Pilot-Ledger Star, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The Washington Post. His impact in the world of journalism and on the nation’s larger social consciousness is both inspiring and impressive.
It has been twenty years since McCall’s searing memoir propelled him from white collar professional to national public figure. The Los Angeles Times summarized it as more than just a personal narrative, but also “an essay on race.” The tale of the proverbial rose growing through concrete sat on the New York Times bestseller list for several weeks, compelling readers across the world with McCall's story of growing up in Portsmouth, Virginia, getting caught up in street life and finding his way from prison to the newsroom.
Ask the author/lecturer how the success of the book has impacted his life he and he replies, “It sent me in a different direction because the responses and the emotional depths of the responses were overwhelming. Because this book was so personal and dealt with so many issues that are relevant in our community, a lot of people came to me seeking answers to big questions.” As community activist, he says he wanted to address everyone’s questions and he proposed a solution to give more through lectures and writing. “I wanted to do more long form writing because there was so much more that was weighing on my heart and I have so much more to say,” he recalls.
Within the past two decades, the virtues and the potential impact of the book has been debated in the media. One reporter for the New York Times described McCall as “a furious man,” and went on to note that the readers of Makes Me Wanna Holler are, “…taken, with uncompromising candor, inside the head of just the kind of violent criminal everyone fears most.”
“That description oversimplifies it,” McCall retorts. “I was trying to say that people are not born violent criminals. A whole lot of things go into shaping who people are and I am not the sum of all my actions. I committed violence, but am I a violent person at my core? No. This is not who I am. I am capable of so much more.”
The chapters of Makes Me Wanna Holler are summaries of, mostly, issues exclusive to McCall’s life. Some, however, are a reflection of society as a whole. He explains that if he were to update the book and extend the chapters, he would discuss a few watershed moments in the Black community that have taken place in the 20 years since the book's release, such as the killing of Trayvon Martin and call for readers not to rest until that injustice is rectified.
“We have to mobilize. We have the power. It’s not that we don’t have the power. I just don’t think that we have shown the will,” he says
McCall points to the public uproar against Arizona’s anti-gay SB1062, which would legalize the discrimination of homosexuals in that state, and uses this as an example to describe how the African-American community must mobilize against Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law. “The business community mobilized, the [gay] community mobilized, the NFL–which is supposed to host the Super bowl in Arizona–had begun planning to shift the location of the Super bowl… If they could do that in Arizona, why can’t we do that in Florida? What do you think would happen if the Black athletes stood up and said ‘We won’t play another game in Florida until that law is taken off the books?’ Because the reality is, it’s not even safe for their sons to go and see them play.” He adds, “We don’t know what Trayvon Martin could’ve contributed to society. He (Zimmerman) didn’t just kill that young man, he killed his future and a part of our future. We cannot afford to quit.”
As McCall understands the social responsibility that goes along with success, he urges people to be aware and stay active. He is honored that many are inspiring the youth through Makes me Wanna Holler as he commends professors at various universities who he says are key players in the book’s longevity— many of them make it required reading in their classes. “It struck a chord and it’s still selling which amazes me after 20 years,” he laughs. “I feel like I’ve never left a book tour, but as far as a book tour celebrating the milestone of the (book’s) twentieth anniversary, we’ll see.”