S. A. Cosby won the 2019 Anthony Award for his short story, "The Grass Beneath My Feet." His latest novel, Blacktop Wasteland, his third, was called "sensationally good" by New York Times Bestselling author Lee Child and "a pitch-perfect jolt of American Noir" by New York Times Bestselling author Dennis Lehane. Growing up in poverty, Cosby has worked as a bouncer, a forklift operator, a roadie, a construction worker, a retail manager and a mortuary assistant. Today, he lives in Gloucester, Virginia, where he writes, hikes and plays chess.

Stay Thirsty Magazine was excited to visit with S. A. Cosby at his home for these Five Questions about his latest novel, race relations and African American culture.

STAY THIRSTY: Your novel, Blacktop Wasteland, is being released at a highly charged time in American history. What parallels exist between your storyline and the daily news?

S. A. COSBY: I feel the main themes of poverty, class and racism that I explore in Blacktop Wasteland are sadly timeless because, time and time again, we find ourselves confronting them. If this book had been released five years ago, ten, twenty, twenty-five years ago, the issues it tackles would unfortunately still be relevant. My hope is that we are in a watershed moment and that we will see a real and substantive movement to address these issues once and for all.

STAY THIRSTY: How did your upbringing influence your social and political views? How have you marshaled those views in your writing?

S. A. COSBY: I was raised in a small southern town where poverty was used as a weapon to keep marginalized people from moving forward. Let me give you one small example. I didn’t have indoor plumbing until I was sixteen. In part, because in my town, we didn’t have a town water line. You have to have your own well. To get a well, you have to have an environmental test done to evaluate your land’s geologically density. That test is prohibitively expensive and if you land “fails,” you can’t dig a well. But many times, it seemed as if some of our wealthier neighbors were able to pass the test without any problems.

I grew up with systemic disenfranchisement and racial hostility. As an adult, I often find myself on the side of the marginalized, the oppressed and those fighting for their piece of the American Dream. I try to tell an intriguing story with my stories and novels, but I also inject my writing with my worldview. If you read my books, you will get a lot of action and excitement, along with a certain philosophical viewpoint. As my mother used to say, a bit of honey makes the medicine go down.

STAY THIRSTY: Race relations and police abuse come to the forefront early in your book. How has the George Floyd tragedy impacted your thinking?

S. A. COSBY: Mr. Floyd’s death is just a further confirmation of the horrible state of law enforcement in this country. I think people hear terms like “defund the police” and they envision dystopian landscapes and roving gangs of lawless outlaws. I think the police in this country are overburdened, in some instances poorly trained, and many times are victims of their own unconscious bias. I think the time for a complete overhaul of how we think about policing in this country is upon us. It’s just a shame another black person had to give his life to make it happen.

S. A. Cosby 

I've been pulled over for DWB more than once. I was given the “talk” as a young man. I was just thinking about this earlier today. I was taught to respect the police, not because they were viewed as heroes in my community, but because disrespecting the police could get you killed. Do you realize how horrible it is to have that kind of mindset? And yet, it’s what keeps some people of color alive.

I think the death of Mr. Floyd, and the cavalier manner in which his murder was carried out, made me realize, not for the first time, how easy it is to be killed in America just for being black.

STAY THIRSTY: How has the African American culture evolved during your lifetime and how have you personally been impacted?

S. A. COSBY: I think for me, I’ve watched African American culture grow and expand exponentially. When I was a kid, we took our cues on what black culture was from New York, Philly, L.A., etc. From fashion to music to literature, it was always filtered through the prism of what the cats in the city thought was cool, then it trickled down to us in the Deep South or the rural Midwest. As time has passed, black culture has grown and been fed by a wonderful cornucopia of regional influences. Hip-hop, one of the bell weathers of black culture, has seen an abundance of Southern artists. The road to relevant pop culture runs up and down Interstate 95. For me, the greatest change I’ve seen is that no one entity gets to decide what is “African American” culture anymore. If black people are doing it and excelling at it, then it’s for the culture.

STAY THIRSTY: When crafting your novel, what was the most important strategy you used and why did you choose muscle cars to play such an important role?

S. A. COSBY: For me, the story is the most important thing. I don’t care what you are trying to say or achieve with your writing, if the story is boring, no one will listen. So I do my best to create compelling, interesting characters and then put them in horrifically difficult situations. I honestly believe true character is revealed during moments of strife. 

I find there is an incredible sense of freedom behind the wheel of a powerful car. A sense of adventure and untamed potential. That freedom is often tempered when you’re a black person driving through the shadow-filled night. But the promise is always there, just out of our reach at times. That sense, that you can get behind the wheel and if you drive fast enough and far enough, you might outrun the past, your problems and your pain, is something that I find endlessly fascinating.


All opinions expressed are solely those of its author and do not reflect the opinions of Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.