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Basil King reads from History Now

I visited Basil and Martha King at their home in Park Slope where they moved in the late 1960s when the house had little value surrounded by desolation and the turf wars of the drug trade. Their backyard has a Buddha in it now peeping from behind green leaves in the garden. I looked for the speaking Olmec head that keeps appearing in Basil’s new book, History Now, but the Olmec head, as it turns out, is not in the backyard, it is at the Museum of Natural History, which makes perfect sense because after reading History Now, I have come to understand that Basil King’s backyard extends to the Upper West Side and beyond that.

In August I had to go to Albany and took the Chinatown bus reading History Now on the way, finishing it when I got to the motel, one sitting in two places, a bus seat and a motel bed. The book is a combination of poetry and prose that twists and turns through the last few centuries of European and American history, particularly England and America, not just the politics, but the art, the famous with the unknown in a confluent retelling of time where everything suddenly—like an epiphany’s surprise—makes perfect sense.

If you come across History Now in a bookstore and are short on cash, sit down for an hour and read one of the chapters. I recommend Grey, Crownstones, A Rush to Finish or—my favorite among favorites—Victorian Times and After. They are page turners, tours de forces. It’s always a pleasure to visit the Kings whose house, like Basil’s new book, is without clutter though filled with beautiful things. Walking down Fourth Street toward Fourth Avenue later, I noticed the playground and the park full of adults and children socializing and playing sports, Spanish, Bangla, and Arabic spoken. There aren’t only the old pioneers in Park Slope now, but immigrants who’ve come because the drug dealers and the knife you had to carry are long since gone. This is home. “There’s a life force,” says Basil King, “and if you got it, you got it.” The life force is what History Now is all about.

Basil King

“Perch #11, for November 9, 2016,” Basil King, mixed media on canvas, 48″ high x 34″ wide, 2016.

Basil and Martha King

History Now is published by Marsh Hawk Press. Check them out here:



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