American Fiction (2023) | Transcript

The complex journey of writer Monk Ellison as he confronts racial stereotypes, family struggles, and personal identity in a satirical literary world
American Fiction (2023)

Title: American Fiction
Year: 2023
Running time: 1h 57m
Genre: Comedy, Drama

Director: Cord Jefferson
Writers: Cord Jefferson, Percival Everett
Stars: Jeffrey Wright, Tracee Ellis Ross, John Ortiz

Plot synopsis: Thelonious “Monk” Ellison, a black writer and professor in Los Angeles, grapples with the literary world’s racial expectations and personal tragedies. His novels, academically lauded but commercially unsuccessful, are deemed not “black enough” by publishers, and his confrontational stance on race issues leads to a temporary leave from his university. In Boston, he reconnects with his family, facing his mother’s Alzheimer’s and his sister’s sudden death. Monk’s life takes a turn when he writes “My Pafology” as a satirical response to stereotypical black narratives, adopting the persona of “Stagg R. Leigh” for the unexpectedly successful book. The novel, later titled “Fuck”, becomes a bestseller, igniting controversy and leading Monk to a literary award panel where he confronts fellow author Sintara Golden and faces his own contradictions. As he navigates familial challenges, including his brother Cliff’s struggles, and a broken relationship with lawyer Coraline, Monk’s story culminates in a screenplay, revealing the narrative as his own creative reflection, ending with multiple possible conclusions, including a dramatic and dark twist.

* * *

[marker lid uncaps]

[marker scribbling]

[Monk] Okay, let’s begin. Who wants to start? Yes, Brittany, kick it off.

I don’t have a thought on the reading, I just think that that word on the board is wrong.

Well, I think it still has two G’s in it last I checked.

[students chuckle]

[Brittany] It’s not funny. We shouldn’t have to stare at the N-word all day.

Uh, listen, this is a class on the literature of the American South. You’re going to encounter some archaic thoughts, coarse language, but we’re all adults here and I think we can understand it within the context in which it’s written.

Well, I just find that word really offensive.

With all due respect, Brittany, I got over it, I’m pretty sure you can too.

Well, I don’t see why.

[sighs in frustration]

[Monk] Right. Now, does anyone else have any [yelling] thoughts on the reading?


Well, it made some of your students uncomfortable.

When did they all become so goddamn delicate?

This wasn’t an isolated incident.


[woman] Last month you asked a student if his family had been Nazis.

Yeah, I did, he’s German, we were reading The Plot Against America and trust me, by the way he was squirming, they were.

Oh, my God.

Um, Monk, you are a very talented writer, we’re fortunate to have you here.

What? He hasn’t published in years. I have written three novels since the last time you published.

Yeah, this is true, and the speed with which you write only proves that good things take time.

Oh, go to hell, Monk.

[chuckles] Relax, Mandy.

Yeah, relax, Mandy. And anyway, my new book is with Echo and my agent says they’re very excited about it.

Oh, that’s great to hear.

What’s it about?

Can we stop stalling, Leo?

[Leo] Um… Listen, Monk, we’d like to give you a break.

What do you mean, break?

Just some time off.

Mandatory time off.

It’s just, you’re already going to Boston for the festival, right? Why don’t you just stay there for

Because I hate Boston, my family’s there.

Well, you need some time to relax. You’re on edge, man.

You’re under the impression that time spent with my family will take the edge off. I’m fine.

[Mandy] You’re not fine. I saw you crying in your car last week. He punched the steering wheel.

Oh, wow. You know, if you spent less time spying on me, you could probably write a dozen more novels that people buy at airports with their neck pillows and Cheez-Its.

Oh, here we go. Okay. You want to go, dirty doggy? Okay, well, enjoy Boston. You can… you can get my book at the airport. Oh, and, good luck with Echo.

[door opens, closes]

[“Without You” by Ace Spectrum playing]

♪ Mm ♪

♪ You turned my house ♪

♪ Into a home ♪

♪ You made me feel love ♪

♪ I’m not alone ♪

♪ And unafraid ♪

♪ Yeah ♪

♪ Of time to come ♪

♪ Proved… ♪

♪ Then you taught me how ♪

♪ What it means ♪

♪ Can we wake Each and every morning Inside a dream? ♪

[cell phone ringing]


Welcome back. How’s it feel to be home?

[Monk over phone] Great. Already had a guy in a Bruins jersey ask me if I think I’m better than him.

[chuckles] That’s good luck here. That’s Boston’s version of a ladybug landing on you.

Any news?

Patrick at Echo is passing. But who fucking cares? He’s an old alcoholic.

What is that? Nine now?

[Arthur] He says, “This book is finely crafted with fully developed characters and rich language, but one is lost to understand what this reworking of Aeschylus’ The Persians has to do with the African-American experience?”

[Monk] There it is. There it is.

[Arthur] They want a Black book.

They have a Black book. I’m Black, and it’s my book.

You know what I mean.

[Monk] You mean they want me to write about a cop killing some teenager or a single mom in Dorchester raising five kids.

Dorchester is pretty white now. But yes.

Jesus Christ. You know, I don’t even really believe in race.

[Arthur] Yeah. The problem is that everyone else does. Anyway, have fun at the book festival. And just don’t insult anyone important. Please.

[pleasant music playing]

[Wilson] Writing from a historical perspective doesn’t mean that you can’t make work that doesn’t resonate with today’s audiences. Yeah, I think of things like Game of Thrones as proof that nerds like us can still find great success.

[microphone feedback]

Unfortunately, we’re going to have to end it there. Thank you to our authors and thanks to all of you for attending.


[Monk] Um… Is it just me, or was this small even for a book festival?

Yeah, it’s because we’re up against Sintara.


Sintara Golden. You haven’t read her?

No, what’s her book called?

[moderator] Raves everywhere.

The Post, Bookforum.

The London Review of Books said,

We’s Lives in Da Ghetto is a heartbreaking and visceral debut.” Plus a little birdie told me that perhaps there’s a TV adaptation in the works?

No comment. [chuckles]

[audience chuckles]

Okay, it was worth a shot. Tell us, what was your life like before you were an author?

Well, I did undergrad at Oberlin and moved to New York the day after graduation and a couple months later, I was an assistant at a publisher.

[moderator] And did that assistant experience shape your writing?

Absolutely. Yeah, I was a first reader meaning I would read all the manuscripts in the slush pile and send them up the ladder if they were any good. Some of them were great, most were not.

[audience chuckles]

But the feeling I couldn’t shake was that no matter how good the books were, most every submission was from some white dude from New York going through a divorce, and too few of them were about my people. And so I think, “Where are our stories?” You know, “Where’s our representation?” And it was from that lack that my book was born.

[audience applauding]

Would you give us the pleasure of reading an excerpt?

Thank you.

“‘Yo, Cheranda, where you be goin’ in a hurry likes that?’

Donna aks me when she see me comin’ out the house.

‘Ain’t none ya business, but if’n you gots to know, I’s goin’ to the pharmacy.’

I looks back at the door to see if Mama comin’ out.

‘The pharmacy? What for?’ she aks.

‘You know’, I says.

‘Nah’, she say.

‘Hell, nah! Girl, you be pregnant again?’

‘Might’s be’, I tells her.

‘And if I is, RayRay’s gonna be a real father this time around.'”

[audience applauding, cheering]

Thank you.

[applauding, cheering continues]


[alarm blaring]

[metal detector beeping]

[Monk] Hi…

[receptionist] Hi.

I’m here to see Lisa Ellison.

Uh, do you have an appointment? We’re about to close.

No, I’m her brother.

[door opens]

[receptionist] Oh.

There she is.

Hello, Monk.

Hi, Lisa.

Okay, you’re in a boat, the motor cuts out, but you’re in shallow water, but you’re wearing $600 shoes, but… your ride to the airport is just pulling away from the beach, why, oh, why is this a legal issue?

I don’t know.

It’s a matter of row versus wade.

Oh, my God.


I think that’s one of my best.




When did you start smoking again?

[Lisa] Mm… Right after the divorce.

I always hated Larry.

Oh, I know. You told me right when we started dating. Do you remember how mad I got?

[imitates Lisa] “It’s not your business who I fuck! Who I fellate.”

[laughs] I definitely did not say “fellate.”

I thought you did. That’s how I heard it anyway.

It’s good to see you.

Yeah, it’s good to see you too. How’s work?

It’s not very glamorous. I go through a metal detector every day.

Well, what you do is important.


Meanwhile, all I do is invent little people in my head, then make them have imaginary conversations with each other.

Books change people’s lives.

Did something I’ve written ever change your life?

Absolutely. Absolutely.

My dining room table was wobbly as hell before your last book came out.

Oh, my God. All right.

It was, like, perfect.

Yeah. Oh, God.

I’m telling you and–

Take me back to Logan, please.

Logan cannot help you, Monk.


Oh, my God!


[Lisa] Welcome home, baby!

[Lisa and Monk laughing]

Hello! Hello!

[Lorraine shrieks, claps]

[Monk chuckles]

Mr. Monk!

[Monk] Lorraine! Oh.

You know how that makes me feel. It’s just Monk.

Oh, don’t do that to me, you know I’m too old to learn new names. How you doing, Miss Lisa?

I’m good.

You look good, Mr. Monk.

Oh, I look fat.

Oh, that’s the California talking. I took you to Arkansas right now, you’d be a beauty queen.


[Agnes] Is that my Monkie?

That’s frightening.

[Lisa laughing]

[Agnes chuckling]

[Monk] Hi, Mother.

[Agnes chuckles] Oh. You look fat.

Ah, I know.

[Lorraine] You ready to go to dinner, Mrs. Ellison?

Uh, I just need my purse and my black cardigan.

[Lorraine] All right, I’ll get it.

Are you all right?


You overeat when you’re depressed.

I’m not depressed, I’ve just been not sleeping well lately and so, fell off my exercise routine.

[Agnes] Mm.


[Agnes] So you’re not depressed. You just wear all the hallmarks of depression.

[Monk groans] I missed you.

[Monk chuckles lightly]

Is Larry coming?

No, Mother. Larry and I are separated, remember?

Of course, I remember.


I just thought he might join us. To see your brother.


I mean, is it really such a big deal? Everyone forgets things. Doesn’t mean she’s sick necessarily.

People forget dentists’ appointments. She forgets I’m not married anymore. That’s weird.

What do you suggest we do?

Why do I have to decide?

Because you’re a doctor.

[Lisa] So are you.

I’m not that kind.

Okay, my point is, you are an intelligent adult. And I’m tired of being the only person that takes care of her.

Well, I don’t recall anyone assigning you that responsibility.

No, you and Cliff just fled west as soon as you could and left me as caretaker by default.

My work’s there.

“My work’s there.” Yeah.

Apologies that it prevents me from keeping up with the family melodrama.

If you lived up the block, you wouldn’t know what was going on. I’m stuck here taking care of that old house and finding love letters from Dad’s affairs.

His what?

[Lisa] His affairs. You didn’t know he was having affairs?

No. How did you?

Well, he was an OBGYN that was traveling constantly, but his patients were in Boston.

He said he was going to conferences.

[scoffs] He was making house calls. Do you know that I saw him kiss a white woman in the park in high school?

How white?

What do you mean, “How white?”

Like Brahmin white or Southie white.

I don’t know. She had thin lips. She looked like a bad kisser.

Did you tell Mother?

No. I wasn’t going to blow up our lives. [clears throat] She’s coming back. Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom. Hi. How you doing?

Our waitress isn’t wearing a bra.


I didn’t notice.

See this shit? This gonna take us out of the ghetto. But there are rules in the house. Number one, never leave this product in the house. And number two, get your own crew. Number three, got to have discipline in your crew. Number four, don’t praise a nigga too much. Otherwise he’s gonna think you’re soft. Rule number five, don’t show no love. Love will get you killed.


See this, it’s like a bitch. You fuck a bitch, don’t let a bitch fuck you. You’re a man who don’t need nothing. No one will get you through. This bitch? This bitch will take your soul. You niggas ain’t got no fam…

[movie turns off]

[Monk mutters]

Excuse me, uh, Ned. Do you have any books by the writer Thelonious Ellison?

Yeah, this way. Here you go.



Wait a minute, why are these books here?

[Ned] I’m not sure. I would imagine that this author Ellison is… Black.

That’s me. Ellison.


He is me, and he and I are Black.

Oh, bingo.

No bingo, Ned, these books have nothing to do with African-American studies, they’re just literature. The blackest thing about this one is the ink.

I don’t decide what sections the books go in. No one here does. That’s how chain stores work.

Right, Ned. You don’t make the rules. Hm.

I’m just going to put them back after you leave.

Don’t you dare, Ned. Do not you dare. Ned.

[suspenseful music playing]

[lively music playing]

Monk, what are you doing?

[books thud]

[Lisa] Mom’s only going to get worse. They say mental exercise is good, that’s why I got her that gardening book.

Does growing cucumbers count as mental exercise?

I hate when you do that.


You share your condescending opinion as a question trying to disguise the condescension. Why don’t you just say that you think that gardening is idiotic?

Uh, because that’s not what I was doing.

Bullshit. Bullshit. Bullshit.

Maybe we can hire a nurse a few times a week.

Who’s going to pay for that?

You… you can’t afford it?

Not after the divorce, I cannot. [sighs]

Well, it will hurt, but we’ll probably have to sell the beach house.

Yeah, we definitely need to sell the beach house, but that money is going to go to pay back the reverse mortgage that our mother took out on the other house. Yeah.

Look, I can send some money home, but it’s not going to be much. Can’t Cliff chip in?

Cliff’s not in a good place, okay?

Who is? Okay?

Monk, Becca took everything. And the kids are getting teased at school.

I didn’t know.

[Lisa] Well… Maybe you should call him.

I’m sorry I’ve always been so distant.

[upbeat music playing faintly over speakers]

You couldn’t help that. You were always Dad’s favorite. And that made Cliff and I bond, and you resented us for having that bond, and then… I don’t know, you just became self-sufficient.

You never talked about this.

We never talked about anything. Is that surprising? Look at our parents. [scoffs]

[Monk] Mmhm.

The only emotions I remember from Dad… were boredom and rage.

Is boredom an emotion?

[Lisa chuckles]

Great. It’s Detective Dictionary.

[both laugh]

[Lisa] Oh!

You haven’t called me that in forever.

Oh, God!

What? Oh, come on!

[Lisa] Oh, God!

[Lisa groans]

Lisa? You okay? Hey.


[Lisa groans]

Hey, help! Help!

[Lisa groaning]

[doctors and nurses speaking indistinctly]

[somber music playing]

[soft music playing]

[bird chirping]

[waves lapping]

[Monk] “If you are reading this it’s because I, Lisa Magical Ellison… have died. Obviously, this is not ideal… but I guess it had to happen at some point. Hopefully, I… Hopefully, I expired under the heaving thrusts of a sweaty Idris Elba or perhaps in a less dignified manner, under the heaving thrusts of a sweaty Russell Crowe.”


“Irrespective of how I went, I ask that those closest to me… not mourn all that much. I lived a life that made me proud. I… I was loved… and I loved in return. I found work that aroused my passions. I believe I gave more than I took. And I did my damnedest to help people in need. And on top of all that, many a friend wrongly accused me of having Botox because of how tight my skin stayed well into my 50’s. What more could someone ask of a life? I love you all. Thank you for being here today. Goodbye. Lisa.”


[Cliff sighs]

Are those human remains? You guys have a permit for that?

Just shut the fuck up, Phillip.

Cliff, you don’t talk to me like that.

Fuck you. I just did.

[Phillip] What?

You want me to beat your ass?

I’m just–

Get the fuck out of here. I will eat your sweater vest for dinner.

No Yep.

[Cliff] Bitch. Go. One.

[Monk] Get the fuck out of here, Phillip.

[Phillip] I’m just–

Two. Three.

[Monk] Always been a fucking douche.

[gentle music playing]

[bell rings]

[door opens]

[piano playing]

[Monk exhales]

Where is everybody?

They’re exhausted. I gave Lorraine something to help her sleep. Mother’s taking a bath. Then I’m going to dose her too.

You think maybe I can get some of that later tonight?

Yeah. What, you’re not sleeping well?

Uh… Normally, I sleep fine, but just lately.


Does seeing a dead body ever become normal?

I don’t know. I haven’t seen many.

[Monk] Really?

I’m a plastic surgeon. If I’m looking at a corpse, then something went very awry.

Right. Yeah. Made me feel for Mother. Can’t imagine what she must’ve gone through finding Dad… you know, like that.

I know. So much death.

When was the last time we were here together?

Uh… Maybe ten years.

[Monk] Yeah.

The kids were still little.

Yeah. How is your family, by the way?

You actually care?

Of course. Why would I ask? Why would you ask me that?

I don’t know, Monk. You never really called.

I get busy.

Yeah, everybody gets busy. You drift away. You want to know how my family is? My wife left me ’cause she caught me in bed with a man. She took my house, half my practice. My kids fucking hate me. And I still live in fucking Tucson.

What was wrong with Tucson?

Oh, my God. There’s one gay bar and it’s full of college kids. One of them asked me if I was Tyler Perry.

That’s terrible. I mean, Tyler Perry lives in Atlanta, right?

Fuck you, man.

[both laugh]

Shut up.

[Monk] Nowhere near Tucson.

[Cliff] Oh, boy.

[Monk] Did you know Dad had affairs?

Oh, for sure.


You could just tell. Lisa told me she saw him kissing a white woman once.

Why did I have no idea? Why am I the last to know?

Because you loved him too much. Enemies see each other better than friends.

[Lorraine snoring]

[Monk] What the hell did you give her?

It’s oxycodone. But knocks them right out.

You gave her opioids to sleep?

Yeah. You ever seen a heroin addict? Those guys take naps standing up.

It’s dangerous.

Look, I’m keeping an eye on her. I’m a doctor.

[Monk] So am I.

Right. Maybe if we need to revive a sentence.

[mocks] Well, why do you have synthetic smack anyway?

[water dripping]

[Cliff] What is that?


[Cliff] Oh, shit.

[knocking at door]

[Monk] Mother? Mother?


[water flowing]

Hey. Hey. What are you doing? Hey. Mother. Hey. Come on. Come on.

[Monk] Well, I’m not sure, to be honest with you. It’s going to depend on what the doctors say. Yeah, I’ll touch base when I know more. Thanks so much for being understanding. Hey, um, Leo, one more thing. I was wondering if maybe we could treat this as a sabbatical as opposed to a leave of absence? Whatever happens with my mother, it’s going to cost some money. No, I understand.No, it’s not your fault. I’ll figure something out. Yeah. Thanks for your help. Okay. Bye-bye.

[Coraline] Oh. Oh. Uh… You don’t have to do that.

Oh, no. I do. It’s tomato season. You can’t let them go to waste.


A crime around here.


[Coraline] Thank you.

That’s what neighbors are for, right?

Welcome to the neighborhood. I thought the place was vacant.

Uh, it has been for a while. We just got here last night.

Oh. Figured the place was haunted. They said some old man blew his brains out there a while back.


Oh, my God. I… I’m a fucking idiot. Please forgive me.


Oh, I’m very sorry to hear that. What’d she do for a living?

She was a doctor. Um… Most of my family, doctors. Basically, I’m the outcast.

[Coraline chuckles]

Um, what do you do for work?

I’m a lawyer. Public defense. Quincy.

Very honorable.

Yeah. It’s very hard, but can be rewarding.

May I ask you something that I’m sure a lot of people ask you?

How do I feel about defending guilty people?


I love it.


I have to. And they’re all guilty.


Yes. But that’s okay. People are more than their worst deed.

I guess I agree with that.

[Coraline] Mm. Sure you do. You’re a writer.

[Monk] I don’t follow.

Well, writers have to be nonjudgmental. You can’t write interesting characters and be critical of every bad decision they make. Right?

Maybe you should be the writer. I don’t feel like much of one lately.

You blocked?

It’s just… [chuckles] I don’t think anybody wants to buy what I write.

[Coraline] That’s not true. I didn’t want to say anything, but, um, I actually read one of your books.

Hm. Which?

The Frogs.

Oh, so you were the one.

[chuckles] I liked it. You’re talented.

[car approaching]

[Monk] You’re expecting company?

[Coraline] Yeah.

[keys jingling]


[door unlocking]



Jelani, uh, this is Monk. He and his family own the house across the street.

Nice to meet you.

Yeah, it’s a pleasure.

Are you staying for dinner?

[Monk] Uh… No, I need to go check in on my mother.

[Jelani] Cool.

[Monk] Thank you, uh… [gulps] For the wine, and… good night.

Good night, Monk.

[gentle music playing]

[waves lapping]

[gentle music continues]

[seagull squawking]

[Cliff sniffles]

What time’s your flight?


You think, uh, maybe you could change it? Think it would be useful to have you at Mother’s doctor’s appointment today.

I can’t. I got to get home.

Fine, but you think you can chip in for her care once we find out what’s what?

It’s probably going to be pretty expensive. Things are tight right now, so…

You thought about firing Lorraine?

Lorraine is family.

Well, shit, Monk.

I don’t know what to tell you, all right?

So you can’t do anything?

[sighs] I will check with my accountant when I get back, all right?

It’s 8:00 in the morning.

I’m not flying the fucking plane, Monk.

Well, do you think you could be so kind as to go inside and see if Mother is ready to head out?

All right. Hey.


Don’t yell, man. Be civilized. You’re just like our dad, man. So you do right by me, Monk. I swear to fucking God.

[Monk] Clown.

[Cliff] You want to see civilized? [yelling] Mother!

[Monk groans]


[Monk] Hey. Morning.

Listen… about last night, uh–

Oh. It’s okay. You don’t have to explain. I had a good time.

No, I… Jelani, he’s my ex. Well, he’s going to be. We’re in the middle of breaking up and… it’s hard.

I get it.

I’d like to see you again. Do you think that you’ll be around town next couple of days? You know, grab a drink?

Yeah, I’d like that.

Yeah, me too. Drive safe.



[nurse] Mr. Ellison? We’re ready.

[Dr. Bulger] Her MRI shows early signs of neurodegeneration. There’s a slight decrease in the size of the temporal lobe which suggest Alzheimer’s. I’m very sorry, Mr. Ellison. But at some point, she’ll probably require around-the-clock care for her own safety.

[disquieting music playing]


[siren blaring]

Hey, young nigga.


Hey, whoa, whoa.

Don’t shoot me, partner. Come on now.

Van Go. That you?

Yeah, me, nigga.

Shit. What, you drunk, motherfucker?

Where you running to?

Just leave me alone, man.


How your mama?

What you say?

I said, how your mama? Oh, shit. They ain’t tell you, huh?

What you talking about, punk? Hey, what you talking about?

Think about it, Van Go. Look at my face. Look at my midnight black complex…

No, that’s not right.

What did you want to say?

You can say it better than that, right?

Come on. What do you want?

[keyboard clacking]

Think about it, Van Go.

Look at my face.

Look at my coal black skin.

And then look at your own.

Look at my black eyes.

Now look at your own.

Look at my big black lips.

[chuckles] Now look at your own.

I’s your daddy whether you like it or not.

Shut up, okay? Shut up, man! You lying!

No, no, that’s the truth, nigga.

So, where you been, huh? Where you been?

I’ve been where I always be. Surviving. You ain’t worth a piss. Your mama ain’t worth a piss. So here I am.


[sirens blaring distantly]

[breathing heavily]

What do I say now?

I think now will come some sort of, you know, dumb, melodramatic sob story where you, uh, highlight your broken interiority. Something… something like, um, I don’t know…

[keyboard clacking]

I hates this man. I hates my mama. And I hates myself. [panting] I’ve seen my face in his. I see the ape that all them stupid girls were afraid of, yeah. I can see my long arms hanging down. And I see eyes that don’t care what happens tomorrow. I see myself rocking back on my heels, just like this, baby. Just waiting. And waiting, and waiting, and waiting, and waiting for something that I’m not even going to recognize when it comes! Death is my only cure. I heard that before. I’ve been hearing it, and I’m hearing it now. I see… I see my mama crying. I see her screaming in my dreams. I see my babies. I see my… I see my daddy. I see myself.

[gun fires]


What the fuck?

[body thuds]

[groans] What the fuck you do that for?

Because you ain’t shit, nigga.

[breathing heavily]

And you made me. So because you ain’t shit, I ain’t shit. Because you ain’t shit, I ain’t shit.

[siren blaring]

I gots to bounce.

[Willy whimpers]

[Van Go] Peace, motherfucker. Peace.

What the fuck was that for?

[woman on TV] You’re watching Black Stories Month on WHN.

[choir singing over TV]

Celebrating the diversity of the African-American experience.

[gun fires]

Join us for more riveting cinema, heartbreak, and drama.

[cell phone vibrating]

[man over TV] Mama!

[TV turns off]


“I be standing outside in the night, a police chopper go by and shine some lights in some backyards and I think, ‘Shine that light on me, motherfucker, shine me some fucking light so I can see where the fuck I be at.'”

Are you serious?

You notice I didn’t put my name on it.

[Arthur] Yes, Stagg R. Leigh, I did notice that. Well done. But I still can’t send this out.

You said you wanted Black stuff. What’s Blacker than that? It’s got deadbeat dads, rappers, crack, and he gets killed by a cop in the end. I mean, that’s… that’s… that’s Black, right?

I see what you’re doing.

[Monk] Good, because it’s not subtle. I mean, how’s that book so different than some of the other garbage they put out?

That’s not the point.

Well, it’s my point. Look at what they publish. Look at what they expect us to write. I’m sick of it. And that’s an expression of how sick I am.

[Arthur] Monk, I’m trying to sell books, not be a part of some crusade. Who do you expect to publish this?

No one. I just want to rub their noses in the horseshit they solicit.

Okay. What do you want me to do?

[Monk] I want you to send it out.

Can I say it’s performance art?

No. Send it straight. If they can’t take the joke, then fuck them.

All right, but I’m only sending it to a couple of places. This thing scares me.

[Monk] Scares you? Why?

Because white people think they want the truth, but they don’t. They just want to feel absolved.

Well, fortunately, that’s not my problem.



[cell phone beeps]


[instrumental music playing]

I’m surprised you reached out. I thought you were just being nice.

Oh, I’m never just being nice. I’m too old for that. You know, I like you so much, in fact, that I went out and got another one of your books.

Really? Which one?

The Haas Conundrum.

What’d you think?

I liked it. Susan has really great dialogue. And I love the aunt. Wow. I mean, you write women well.

Oh, you think so?

Yeah. They’re not hothouse flowers.

Thank you. I appreciate that.

[Coraline] Mm. I could’ve done with less footnotes though.

[both chuckling]

I, uh… I got to run.

Well, how’s your mom?

In and out. I’m afraid to be away for too long.


But, uh… I’ll, uh… I’ll call you.

Hold on a minute. Sign my book.

[Monk chuckles]

What’s your name again?

[Coraline] Hm.

[gentle music playing]

[door creaking]

[light switch clicking]

[Lorraine] Mr. Monk?

What’s going on with the lights?

Miss Lisa used to pay the bill. Did you?

[“Don Quichotte” by Magazine 60 playing]


How much?

[Monk over phone] Well, I can handle the electrical bills, but these care facilities are expensive. The best one nearby is $5,600 a month, and that’s for a shared room. It goes up to $6,900 a month for a private room.

Well, why you looking at the best one? She wasn’t the best mother.

Look, I’m not here to relitigate our childhoods.

Of course not, because yours was great.

[Monk] Goddamn it! Are you going to help me or not?

Won’t Medicaid cover it or something?

That’s not how it works. You don’t know this?

Oh. Hello.

[Cliff moaning]

[Monk] Who’s that? What are you doing?

I’ve taken a lover.


You’ve taken a lover?

You got a problem with that, homophobe?

Listen, I’m not offended that you’ve taken a lover, Cliff. I’m offended, Cliff, that you call it taking a lover.

Mm, you can eat shit, nigga.

[cell phone beeps]

I’ll take my lover right now. Hey, where you going?

[“Don Quichotte” continues]

There you are.

Traffic was insane. What’s up?

Sit down.

[door closes]

Have a seat. We sold your book.

[laughs] Holy shit!

I thought it was DOA. Not The Persians.



Get out!

Paula Betaman from ThompsonWatt.

She always passes.

Not this time. They want to preempt for $750,000.

No one’s ever offered that much to me.

This is you.

No, it’s not, Arthur.

[Arthur] You wrote it.

As a joke.

Well, now it’s the most lucrative joke you’ve ever told.

[Monk] And I’m not selling.

Why not?

Because it’s trash, Arthur. You didn’t even want to send it out the other day. Oh, but look who’s suddenly overcome his fears.

I know, I broke the first rule of sales. Never underestimate how stupid everyone is.

Well, I’m not participating in making them any stupider.

Well, you haven’t thus far, which is admirable, but… you also haven’t made any money. Doesn’t your mom need help these days? Check this out.

[perplexing music playing]

I don’t care how drunk we get, I’m not selling it.

[Arthur] That’s not what I’m doing.

Johnnie Walker Red, 24 bucks. Johnnie Walker Black, 50 bucks. Johnnie Walker Blue… $160. You see the metaphor?


These are all made by the same company. The Red is shit, the Black is less shit, the Blue is good. But fewer people buy the blue because it’s expensive. And at the end of the day, most people just want to get drunk. For most of your career, your books have been Blue. They’re good, complex. But they’re not popular because most people want something easy. Now, for the first time ever, you’ve written a Red book. It’s simple, prurient. It’s not great literature, but… satisfies an urge. And that’s valuable. What I’m trying to illustrate is that, just because you do Red doesn’t mean you can’t also do Blue. You can do it all. Like Johnnie Walker. In fact, you got Johnnie Walker beat, because… you don’t even have to put your real name on it.

[perplexing music continues]


Jesus. Do we drink now?

[glasses clink]

[phone line ringing]

[woman over phone] Hello?

Hello, Paula.

Arthur! So wonderful to hear from you. Um, I hope that you are with the man of the hour.

I am, indeed. He’s right here next to me.

Mr. Leigh?

[Monk] Uh, yeah, this is he.

Oh, really?

[Monk sputters]

Uh… Yeah, goddamn it.

Right. Right. Okay.

[Monk] Motherfucker.

Yeah, I was a little confused at first, but… [chuckles]

We’re both very excited to discuss ThompsonWatt’s offer.

Yes, well, first of all, let me just say that all of us here at ThompsonWatt are thrilled with My Pafology. It is about as perfect a book as I have seen in a long, long while. Just… just raw and real. And, Mr. Leigh, is this based on your actual life?

Yeah, you think some bitchass college boy can come up with that shit?

No, no. No, I don’t. No. You know, that kind of [sighs] visceral energy cannot be taught, right? Stagg… May I call you Now, is Stagg a pseudonym?

Yes, uh, it is. Mr. Leigh can’t use his real name because he’s a… Well, he’s a wanted fugitive.

[Paula] Oh, my God. Wow.

That’s why this couldn’t be a video conference.

Are you crazy? What if they fact-check this?

I checked. There’s barely money to pay editors anymore. Just go with it.

Yeah, I did a 12-year bid, but no going back. Know what I mean?

Yeah. Yeah, you know, um… I’ve been reading a lot about the prison abolition movement…

Oh, God!

[Paula] I’ve…

Sorry to rush, Paula, but can we talk business? Mr. Leigh values his time outside of a cell.

[Paula] Of course. I’m sure you’re both very, very busy so I will get right to it. Um, you’ll notice that our offer is… unusually large and that is because we believe Mr. Leigh has written a bestseller. We think it is going to be the read of the summer.

Yeah, I’m sure white people on the Hamptons will delight in it.

[Paula] Yes, we will. They We It’s going to be huge. Huge. I love it.

[soft music playing]

[Maynard] Is that little Thelonious Ellison?

[Monk] My God! Maynard!

[Maynard chuckles]

Everyone still call you Monk?

[Monk] Well, everyone but you.

[chuckles] Well, it’s a beautiful name. It seems simple not to use it whole.

Well, I’m glad someone appreciates it.

I heard about your sister. My condolences.

Thank you.

I don’t think I’ve seen you since before your father passed?

Yeah, it’s been a while. I live in LA now.

Oh! Hollywood. Hey, do you write for that NCIS?

Just books.

Well, you should try to write for NCIS. It’s popular.

Well, maybe I will.

[Maynard chuckles]

Hey, so, how you been?

Oh, I’m good. And you?


Mr. Monk. What would you like for dinner? Maynard!

Hi, Lorraine.

It’s been a dog’s age.

Well, I guess it has. You look well.

You too.

[playful music playing]

Well, I best be getting back. It’s good to see you, Thelonious.

You too.

Lorraine. Mm, mm, mm.

[playful music continues]


Ain’t nothing to smile at.


[knocking on door]

[Monk] Oh! There she is. Behave yourself.

[Coraline] Hey. Hi. Got this for you.

[Monk] Oh, thank you.

Lorraine, this is Coraline.




Yeah, hello.


Mother, perfect timing. This is Coraline.

Hello, dear, I’m Agnes. Such a pleasure to meet you. I brought you these.

[gasps] Dahlias are my favorite. There’s a whole world inside them.


[Lorraine] Yes.

Mother, you sit here. All right.

And, Coraline, why don’t you sit across from Mother?

[Coraline] Oh, sure, sure.


[Monk] Okay.

I’m happy you’re not white.

Me too.

[soft music playing]

[Monk] Yeah, it was pretty funny. Well, I think you… I think you remind her of my sister.

[Coraline] Mm. Well, do you think we look alike?

No, but… you’re both self-assured… and funny… and you’re both… fantastic kissers.

Oh. Ooh. [chuckles]


[Lorraine distantly] Mrs. Ellison? Mrs. Ellison? Mr. Monk! Mr. Monk!

I just… I just…

What’s wrong?

I just stepped outside for a moment.

What’s wrong?

Having a cup of coffee with Maynard, I was right in front.

Where’s Mother?

I don’t know!


The backdoor was open. She gone.


We should split up. Here. I got more in the car.

[Monk] Mother! Mother! Mother! Mother!

[solemn music playing]

Mother! Mother. [distantly] Mother! Mother! Hey! Mother! Mother! Hey! Hey, stop! Hey! Where are you going?

Lisa’s out there roughhousing with the cousins. Somebody’s going to get hurt.

Stop. Um… I will go tell her. Okay?

Yeah, but then–

I’ll take you back to the house and then I will go tell her.

But they’re out there.

I know, I know.

Okay, you sure?

I will tell her.


Now, come on. It’s too cold out here.

[Agnes] You should…

[Monk] Okay.

[Agnes] Lisa doesn’t swim very well.

[Monk] I know. I know. Okay. Almost there. All right.

[Coraline] Oh, good. Good.

Here we go.

[Monk] All right.

[Agnes] Okay, Monkie.

[Monk] All right.

And this is our library. It’s full of all the classics. And we try to get some new releases too.

Do you like to read, Mrs. Ellison?


That’s not true. She loves to read. She taught me to love reading.

Perhaps we can get some of your son’s books in here. And you can lead a book club.

[Agnes] Hm.


It’s fine. It’s hard for a lot of the residents at first. But she’ll settle in.

Right. I appreciate all your help, but how soon do you think we can get her in?

Uh, in about a month. You can start the paperwork today if you’d like.

Great. I’d like that.

[cell phone ringing]

I’ll go check on your mom, okay?

Thank you.

[cell phone ringing]

[pensive music playing]


[Carl] Hey, Thelonious. How you doing? My name is Carl Brunt. I am the director of the New England Book Association.

Hi, Carl. I know who you are.

[Carl] Oh, good. Then perhaps you’ll also know that each year my organization bestows the somewhat pretentiously named Literary Award.

Every writer knows the Literary Award, Carl. Especially those of us who haven’t won it.

[chuckles] Yeah. Yeah. Well, that’s sort of related to why I’m calling. Like many American institutions, mine was recently rattled by the notion that our lack of diversity had led to a blind spot in our work. So, you know, we’re kind of trying to remedy that. And to that end, I was wondering how you might feel about being a judge in this year’s award ceremony?

Um, let me say first, Carl, that I’m honored you choose me out of all the Black writers you could go to out of fear of being called racist.

Yeah, you’re very welcome.

But I think this sounds like a lot of work.

Yeah, I can’t deny that. I mean, you’re going to have to read dozens of books. We could offer you a modest stipend.

Even so, I’m not sure.

[Carl] Okay. One of the crass perk I reference when people are kind of on the fence like this is that this will allow you the opportunity to literally judge these other writers for once, rather than just figuratively.

All right, I’m in.

[Carl] Well, fantastic. Okay. Great. So you’re going to be one of five judges. Uh, the only one we have confirmed so far is Sintara Golden. Are you familiar with Sintara Golden’s work?

[dramatic music plays]


[Carl] Oh, she’s great. You’re going to love her, man.

[soft music playing]

[Lorraine] I brought you lunch, Mr. Monk.

Oh, wow.

To what do I owe the pleasure?

[Lorraine] Well, I have a favor to ask. I was wondering if I might be able to take the afternoon off. Maynard just came in from the beach. And we thought it might be nice to visit a museum.

Yes, of course. I’m free today, so I can look after Mother.


[Lorraine] Hm?

You really like him, huh?

He’s a fine man.

[gentle music continues]

[cell phone ringing]


[Arthur] Page seven. It’s got like 12.

[chuckles] The guests of honor.

Hello, Mrs. Ellison. Looking beautiful as ever.

Hello, Arthur.

Layne, would you take Mrs. Ellison to the kitchen, and set her up with some tea?

Right this way, ma’am.

Mother, I won’t be long.

[Agnes] Take your time.

Thank you.

[Layne] Mmhm.

Not the pods.


The good tea, for guests.

What is this? I told you to dress street.

I did.

Fucking Sesame Street.

What’s this guy’s name? Willy?

Wiley. Wiley Valdespino. He specializes in Oscarbaity “issue” movies. He did the Middle Passage one last year.

[Monk] Somehow I didn’t see that.

Of course, not. You’re not lobotomized. But if he adapts your book, you stand to make a lot of money.

Why can’t we just do a phone call?

Well, he said if he’s going to cut a check this large, then he needs to meet in person.

All right. [sighs] What do I need to do?

Just make him like you. When I talked to him, he seemed thrilled that you’re a fugitive. Just, you know, play that up.

But what if he recognizes me?

[Arthur] You?

Yeah, the real me.

Monk, you’re not that famous. And nobody in Hollywood reads. They got their assistants to read things, and then summarize them. The whole town runs on book reports.

You sure you can look after my mother?

She won’t leave my sight.

You’ll just be across the street, anyway.

[Monk] Across the street.

You should go. You’ll be late. He’s waiting for you.

Well… if he, uh, wants the stereotype, [clears throat] maybe it’s better I’m late.

[lively music playing]

Stagg, I presume?

That’s me.

Hey, I’m Wiley. Nice to meet you, brother.

[Monk clears throat]

Sorry about the bougie restaurant. My assistant picked it. We can go somewhere else if you’re uncomfortable.

This is fine.


What are you drinking?

[Monk sighs]

I’ll have a Chenin Blanc.

[server] All right.

Of your driest.


[Monk] Well, what’s funny?

Ah, it’s just a strange order for a guy like you.

Why is that?

Well, you don’t see many convicts drinking white wine.

You know many convicts?

You’d be surprised.

I spent a month in the joint myself. It was some interstate commerce shit. It was a short stay, but I’ll tell you what, that experience grounded me. The people I met in there allowed me to see a whole world of underrepresented stories from underrepresented storytellers. Can I ask what you were in for?

I don’t like to talk about that. You feel me?

Was it murder?

You said that, not me.

[Wiley sighs]

You know, I got to tell you, before you showed up, I was a little worried you might be a phony. A lot of fakes in Hollywood.

Well, I’m not from Hollywood.

Yeah, yeah, no. That’s obvious. That’s obvious. Clearly, you’re cut from a different cloth than your average… screenwriter.

Let me ask you…

[distant siren wailing]

I know they sent you some of my stuff. Did you have a chance to see any of my movies?

[hesitates] Sorry, what did you say?

Have you seen any of my movies?

Uh, no.


Well, look, what I like to do is I like to pair genre with real-world pathos. It kind of elevates things. You might be interested in this one we’re about to shoot actually. It’s about this white couple. They get married on an old plantation in Louisiana. Then all the slave ghosts come back, and they murder everyone.

Dear God.

[Wiley] I know. I know. It’s great, right?

[siren wailing]

It’s called Plantation Annihilation. Ryan Reynolds is going to get decapitated with an afro pick in the opening scene.

[gags] He’s a friend.

[Monk] Got to go.

[frantic music playing]

[breathing heavily]

Mother. Mother. Mother. Mother!

[mellow music playing]

Some ad exec on the third floor had an aneurysm.



I know. Imagine exploding your brain trying to think of a toilet paper commercial.

I assume Wiley isn’t interested. I sprinted out of there like a complete maniac.

Actually, he’s offering $4 million for the rights.


[chuckles] Yeah, man. He called you the real deal. Said you took off the moment you heard police sirens.

[zipper zips]

The dumber I behave, the richer I get.

Now you know why my parents moved here from Puerto Rico.

[urinal flushes]

[Wilson over screen] I mean, we can’t be expected to read every novel all the way through, right?

No, people have worked hard on these books. And we have to respect that.

Well, hard work doesn’t demand respect. I mean, you know, people worked hard on the Third Reich .

Yeah, well, I feel that we owe it to them to read every page.

That is such horseshit. I mean, most of it’s going to be that Knausgard autofiction crap, anyhow. I tell you something right now, I’m not reading 600 pages about some pretentious jackwagon discovering masturbation. Sorry.

Okay, look, I think we’re all experienced enough to assess the general quality of something within 100 pages. If you want to read beyond that, that’s your prerogative.

[sighs] Well, how do you feel, Monk?

Um, I agree with Sintara, actually. I think 100 pages is sufficient.

You know, this is all a crock, anyway. I mean, pitting art against other art for awards, like, it’s not subjective. It’s absurd.

Then why did you agree to be a judge if you feel that way?

Well, because it’s either me or some other Brooklyn hack who doesn’t think there’s a world beyond the Hudson River, Ailene.

It’s the East River if you’re in Brooklyn, Daniel.

[Sintara] You know what, art is subjective. But I think this is an opportunity to highlight books that may otherwise be undervalued. Book sales are plummeting right now. So, perhaps this award can give someone a real chance at a career in this industry.

Hear, hear.

Um… Where do you want this, Mother? Thought it might look nice here with this natural light.

I don’t care. I never liked that painting, anyway.

[classical music playing over speakers faintly]

Okay. Uh, well, I’ll bring some more art from home next week. And you just tell me the pieces you like, and I’ll bring them.

[knocking on door]

[orderly] We’ve got your lunch ready for you, Mrs. Ellison.

Oh, it looks great. What is it?

It’s roasted turkey and Havarti on 12 grams.

Sounds delicious.

Mrs. Ellison prefers white bread. And she doesn’t like the crust. As much as this place costs, y’all should get the sandwiches right.

I’ll make sure that we take care of that from now on, okay? And enjoy your lunch, Mrs. Ellison.

[door closes]

I’m getting married.

Shut up.


I didn’t say nothing earlier. I was just so sad. But Maynard asked me yesterday.

[Monk chuckles]

Lorraine, that’s amazing. I mean, let’s celebrate.

[Lorraine] Mmmm! Just too much excitement. I don’t like being the center of attention.

Well, you deserve it, Lorraine. And Maynard is a lucky man.

[chuckles] Do you think you’d be willing to walk me down the aisle, Mr. Monk?

[music playing softly]

I’d be honored.

Wow. Wow. [chuckles]

[Paula over phone] We are wildly excited to help you get My Pafology out. The marketing team has all kinds of great ideas to help you sell it.

Great. We’re excited to hear.

John Bosco is the head of the department. I will let him tell you more.

Hi, Stagg.


Nice to finally meet you, my man. Listen, I love the book. And we are going to sell many, many copies. There’s already so much buzz because of the movie deal. And we just want to keep that momentum going.

I spoke to Wiley yesterday. He says Michael B. Jordan is circling.

[Paula] We heard. We think he would be absolutely perfect. You know, this book, it’s awardsbait with a capital B.

And we’re thinking that if Michael does sign on, we want to put him on the cover in one of those, um, scarves, I guess you would call them, tied round his head.

A durag?

[John] Durag. That’s it. Durag and a tank top with the muscles showing.

Ooh, somebody call the fire department.

[John] Yummy.

[John and Paula laughing]

[imitates gunshot]

Shit. Sorry. Your dad. Sorry.

[John] So listen, for a release date, we’re thinking of rushing it, so that we can get it out in time for Juneteenth.



[John] We’re thinking of making a big holiday push. Black people will be celebrating, white people will be feeling, let’s be honest, a little conscious stricken.

We think it’s going to be a huge moment for your book.

[Monk groans]

[Paula chuckles]

So, Stagg, are you so, so happy?

We think it’s great, John, really. Amazing.

Yeah, it’s, uh… It’s great. And, you know, I’ve got an idea I want to share with you two.

[Paula] Oh, well, I mean, we always love to hear great ideas.

[John] Oh, yeah, cool.

[Paula] Yeah.

I want to change the title.


I don’t…

Okay. Um, well, just to be clear, we really do love My Pafology.

Love it.

It’s got that whole Irvine Welsh proletarian vernacular thing.


[Monk] No, and that’s why I think you’re going to love this new title even more.

Well, okay, you know what, we’re always happy to hear new ideas. What did you have in mind?


[Paula stammers]

I’m sorry. Pardon me.


I want to call it Fuck.

[laughs nervously]

What are you doing?

Screw these idiots.

Stop it.


[Paula] So, Stagg, what about, uh, like, Damn?

[John] Mmhm.

[Paula] Damn? Or Hell?

Nah. Fuck.

Okay, that’s cool. Uh… But maybe we could do that with a PH instead because that would be more palatable…

Yes. Yes.

…to our sellers.

I don’t care about all that. And if you don’t change the title, the deal is off.

Oh, yeah. No.

Whoa, whoa, whoa.

There’s no need to be hasty.

No, no, no.

You know what? Why don’t we– Juts give us a second and, um, a moment and we will get right back to you, okay?

What are you doing?

What are you doing? This is ridiculous.

Do you know how much money we’re talking about?

I don’t care, I’m shutting it down.

Shutting it Come on.

Shutting it down.

[Paula] Are you there?

Please, just…

[button clicks]

We’re here.

Let’s do it.



Yeah. We discussed it, and we think it is very in your face in the best way possible.

[John] It is very, uh…

[Paula stammers]



[John] That’s it. Yes, that’s it. I’m happy you said it, and not me.

[Paula and John laughing]

[Paula] Oh, fuck.

It’s fucking great, Stagg.

I love it.

Yes. [chuckles]

Oh, my…

You know, it’s so brave actually.

[Coraline] I’m exhausted.

Yeah, me too. I got to stay up a few more hours reading these books for…

[water splashing]

Hey. Hey. Hey. Hey!

[Cliff] Bro. Oh, shit.

What are you doing here?

What am I doing here? What are you doing here? What do you mean, what am I doing?

Why are you in town?

I came to see our mother. Ain’t that what you been calling me about for weeks now?

[Cliff breathing heavily]

What happened to your eye?

I got into a fight.


Well, get out of the pool. You’re making a mess.

I don’t want to get out of the pool. I’m a grownass man. This your girlfriend?

Yeah, you scared the shit out of her.

I’m Coraline.

Hi, Coraline. At least she’s not white again.

[Coraline chuckles]

Your wife was white.

My wife was a beard. Beards don’t count.

Well, get out. You fucking menace. You’ll wake the neighbors.

[Cliff] You know, fuck your neighbors! And fuck your clean pool! It’s all just a part of your superiority complex, anyway.

[Cliff shouts]

[Monk] Fucking asshole.

[Cliff and Coraline laughing]

You are a goddamn child!

It’s probably a bad time to tell you, but I did piss down there.


[Coraline laughing]

[Monk] Oh, funny, huh?

[Coraline] I’m sorry, Monk.

Don’t get mad.


Get out of here.

You want a piece of me?

[cheerful music playing]

[Cliff laughing]

It’s funny, huh?

[Cliff] So I’m lying in bed with him, buttass naked and in walks Claude carrying the frozen yogurt.


Yeah, I forgot I’d shown him where I keep the spare key. So he just throws the yogurt at us and then he wallops me right in the eye.

What was the other guy doing?

He couldn’t stop laughing. He said that’s what he does when he gets nervous.

[Coraline chuckles] Okay.

You really going for it these days.

I only been gay for, like, five minutes, I got to make up for lost time.

Yeah. Well, good for you. I mean, the whole world’s falling apart. Might as well have some fun.

I appreciate that.


You know, you’re quite beautiful.

Thank you.

What do you see in my brother?

He’s funny.

[Cliff] Mm. He’s not funny. No.

No, not haha funny. Like, sad funny.

[Cliff] Okay.

[Coraline] Like a three-legged dog.

I see it now. Like somebody dying on a toilet.

[Coraline] Exactly.


Invariably, you go too far.

[Cliff] You think? I don’t think I go far enough.

It’s becoming hurtful.

[Cliff and Coraline] Aw.

See? See?

[Cliff as Monk] “You know, invariably…”

[Coraline] Oh.

“…you go too far.”

[Cliff laughs]

[Coraline kisses] Yeah.

You got a kiss, man.

[Coraline laughs]

Look at you. Just by being pathetic. God bless you.



[Cliff] That is like a three-legged dog.

[Coraline] Hey.

[Cliff laughing]

Oh, this is nice.

Yeah, it’s not bad.

What do you got there, pergola?

No, that’s a gazebo.

[Cliff] Same difference.

All right?

[Monk] To the left.

Oh. Excuse me.

Huh. Hey, Monk? How the hell can you afford this place?

I, um… Well, there was some money Lisa left for Mother.

Thought the divorce cleaned her out.

Well, I’m not familiar with what her finances were like, but if you’re so interested in the bills, perhaps I can start sending them to you?

Ah, it’s fine. Where we going?

Right here. 44.


We’ve had a difficult morning.

We had to sedate her after she tried to strike a nurse.

Has she done that before?


[record player clicks]

She has a different demeanor every day. Sometimes every hour. But maybe she’ll feel better tomorrow. I’m sorry, I need to go.

Yes, of course. Thank you.

The gardener cut these right off the bush for your mom. Sweet, right?

Yeah, that’s great.

How can you afford this place? I mean, you’re not a drug dealer or something, are you?

No, I’m a writer. And you’re my girlfriend, not my bookkeeper.

[“Things You Are” by Tab Smith and His Orchestra playing]

♪ Down a mountain ♪

♪ Do it with my bare hands ♪

♪ I crush the rocks to stone ♪

♪ And toss them up to heaven ♪

♪ The moment I was blue ♪

♪ I’d rush right home to you ♪

♪ If all these things I do for you ♪

♪ I would write a symphony… ♪

I always knew you weren’t a queer.

♪ One that would make… ♪

♪ It would be a melody… ♪

She doesn’t know what she’s saying.

I’m going to wait outside.

♪ Make a notion ♪

♪ To search out my devotion ♪

♪ We didn’t go Hand in hand… ♪

[rain pattering]

[car approaching]

You sure you don’t want to stay for Lorraine’s wedding?

It’s better if I go.

It was nice to meet you, Cliff.

[pensive music playing]

This family will break your heart.

[door opens]

[audience cheering and applauding]

[upbeat music playing]

Welcome back. I’m Kenya Dunston and today, we’re going to discuss a new novel that just debuted at number one on The New York Times bestseller list. It is just a remarkable, special book, and it’s called… Cover your kids’ eyes and ears… [chuckles]

[censor beeps]


We are lucky enough to have the author with us today. And for those of you who are just joining us, please know that Mr. Stagg R. Leigh is coming to us from an undisclosed location as he is still on the run from authorities.

[Kenya chuckles]

Oh, Stagg, tell us, is this novel a true story?

[Monk distorted] Not factually, but it’s the true story of what it’s like to be a Black man in America like me. And it ain’t pretty.

Amen to that.

[Monk] During my time in prison, I learned that words belong to everybody. So this book is my contribution to this wonderful country of ours where a Black ex-con can become rich simply by telling the story of his unfortunate people.

[Kenya] Hm. Yes. Yes.

[audience cheers]

[cell phone ringing and vibrating]

[cell phone beeps]


[Arthur] Get this. The FBI called Thompson Watt today to try to get Stagg R. Leigh’s identity.


[Arthur] Don’t worry. They’re not going to give him up.

Give who up? It’s me, I haven’t done anything.

They don’t know that.

Look, this has gone too far.

[Arthur] Relax. The fugitive stuff’s getting us mountains of free press.

[elevator dings]

Plus, as you said, you haven’t done anything. It’s not like they can arrest you.

I wish I could go back to not selling books.

[elevator dings]

I don’t. Bye.

[phone line disconnects]


[music playing softly]

[Monk sighs]

Is everything all right?

Yeah. I’m just a little stressed out. This, uh, book award stuff is a bit more work than I expected.

[Coraline] Hm.

[fork thuds]



It’s no biggie. Got more forks in the kitchen.

[fork clatters loudly]

What’s this?

Mm. My friend got it for me. Have you read it?

Of course not, have you?

[Coraline] Yeah.

And what did you think of it?

I liked it.

What did you like about it?

[Coraline] Um…

It didn’t offend you?

You just said you didn’t read it. What’s your problem?

No, you answer my question.

You answer mine.

My problem is that books like this aren’t real. They flatten our lives.

What do you mean?

[Monk] I mean, that… you know, my life is a disaster, but not in the way you’d think reading this shit. These things reduce us and they do it over and over again because too many white people, and people apparently like you devour this slop like pigs at a dumpster to stay current at fucking cocktail parties or whatever.

Okay, um… You got a lot of opinions for someone who hasn’t published anything for years.

And you’ve published what exactly?

Okay, what is wrong with you? Why are you acting like this?

I’m not acting like anything.

You’ve been acting like a weirdo for weeks. You’ve been obfuscating, sneaking around. You’re fucking unknowable. Maybe you think being an enigma is chic and artsy. I just think it makes you an asshole.

[Monk] Well, um, you don’t understand my life, and you can’t, so just leave it at that.

One day, maybe you’ll learn that not being able to relate to other people isn’t a badge of honor.

I think you should leave.

Well, you know what I think?

You should leave, Monk.

[Monk] Nonsense.

[door opens, closes]

[music playing softly]

[Monk] You guys need any help with that?

Nah, we’re good.

I thought you could use a little brawn.

[mover] We got it.

[Lorraine] Mr. Monk. You mind I keep the soda maker? You don’t like the bubbly water anyhow, right?

It’s all yours.

[Lorraine] Thank you.

Um… Hey, what about this?

No. I always hated that color. It’s just the one your father bought.

Thelonious, this just came for you.

Okay, thanks.

[Lorraine] This is the last of it. Goodbye, Mr. Monk.

Bye, Lorraine.

Drive safe. Guess I’ll see you at the wedding.

All right.

[mover] I’ll take that there.

[music playing]

Thompson Watt apparently raced to publish it.

Yeah, I heard that they ran 300,000 copies already and they’re reprinting more soon. I mean, it’s going like gangbusters .

Christ on a crutch! It better be good.

Hey, I heard the writer’s a fugitive.

Well, that would explain the title. He didn’t go to charm school.

No, I think that that background is a plus. I am thrilled to read a BIPOC man harmed by our carceral state.

[Daniel] Are you one of those defund the police nuts?

Yes, and I wouldn’t expect you to understand.

Well, I hope someone you love doesn’t get raped or murdered.

Can we not talk about this now, please?

Look, look, look. Criminal or not, I don’t think we should add it. We’re already weeks into the process, and I don’t know about any of you, but I’ve got more than a dozen books I haven’t even opened yet. [clears throat]

It was published before the submission date, I think we have to accept it.


[Wilson] Yeah, it’s just one more. And from the looks of it, it should be a quick read.

A quick fuck. [chuckles]


I’ve had a couple of those. [chuckles]

Bye, guys. Bye.

[cell phone beeps]

[piano music playing]

[knocking on door]

Hi, Monkie.

You look beautiful.


Oh, hello.

Monkie, do we know these men?

No, Mother, this isn’t the Alzheimer’s, these are actual strangers. Who are you people?

We’re Cliff’s friends.

Of course, you are.

We met him a few days ago. I’m Kenny, this is Alvin.

Are you Monk?

I am. How did you know?

Oh. Well, Cliff said Monk’s a real tightass.

Did he? Delightful.

Mother, you sit here. Lorraine?

[Alvin] Do you like scrambled eggs?

[Kenny] I love scrambled eggs.

What the hell are you doing here?

You first.

Oh, shit, the wedding.


[Cliff] Oh, fuck! I didn’t go to the airport. That day I left, I needed some time to myself.

Time to oneself implies by definition, time alone.

Oh, Christ, here we go. Detective Dictionary.

[Lorraine] Ah! Mr. Cliff.

I’m sorry, guys, I’ll handle it. You need to leave. Don’t bother to clean up, just go.

Oh, no, it’s all right, just…

Please stay. It’s a celebration. It’s good to see you, Cliff.

It’s good to see you too, Maynard. I, um… I… I don’t want to impose.

You can’t impose. You’re family.

[music playing softly]

Okay. I’ll, uh… I’ll go clean up a bit, yeah? Congratulations, you guys.

Can we make y’all some breakfast? I can whip up a killer smoothie and Alvin used to work the omelet station on a cruise ship.

[Lorraine] That sounds lovely. Thank you.

It’s very kind of you to let them stay.


It’s always easier dealing with other people’s families than your own.

[Monk chuckles]

I regret to inform you that in a couple hours, this will be your family.

[“Let Love Flow On” by Sonya Spence playing]


[guests cheering and clapping]

[guests exclaim]

♪ Let love flow on, baby ♪

♪ Let love be free ♪

♪ I reach for you Honey, yeah ♪

♪ You reach for me ♪

♪ We’ll do the things together Only lovers do ♪

♪ Let love flow on, baby ♪

♪ We’ll do the things together Only lovers do ♪

♪ Let love flow on, baby ♪

♪ Getting into each other ♪

♪ Let’s reunite ♪

♪ And we let Love’s vibrations ♪

♪ Lead us all right ♪

♪ We’ll do the things together Only lovers do ♪

♪ Let love flow on, baby ♪

♪ We’ll do the things together Only lovers do ♪

♪ Let love flow on, baby ♪

[guests chattering]

[muffled upbeat music playing faintly over speakers]

Piss her off?


Shut her out?


Dad shut everyone out too. He lied all the time. Look how that turned out.

I find myself getting very angry these days like Dad.

These days? I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how Dad died not knowing I’m gay.

I think he suspected it.

Mm. He may have. But he didn’t know for sure. He never knew the entirety of me. And now he never will. And that makes me… It makes me real sad.

Well, what if he had known and rejected you?

At least he’d be rejecting the real me. I know that sounds crazy, but there’d be some relief in that.

It doesn’t sound so crazy.

[piano music playing softly]

People want to love you, Monk. I personally don’t know what they see in you, but… they want to love you. You should let them love all of you.

[Daniel] It was dogshit. I mean, some mollycoddled chump faffing on about his dead mom… Who cares? [scoffs]

Okay, so that means that Bury Me Standing is fourth.

Let’s talk about Fuck.

Could we not?

[Ailene] Personally, I adored it. It was like gazing into an open wound.

I agree. I think it’s the strongest African-American novel I’ve read in a long time. I mean, since yours. Of course, Sintara.

Thank you.

You know, I actually liked it much more than I was expecting.

I mean, this is a gutsy piece of work.

And necessary for the times.

What did you think, Sintara?

I found it to be pretty pandering, actually.

You did?

Yes. Did you not?

I very much did. I thought it was simplistic and meaningless.

Well, of course, it was simplistic. I mean, it’s the language of the gutter. You know, not some prissy graduate thesis.

“Language of the gutter.” Jesus Christ.

I think our blood sugar’s low. How about we take a break for lunch, huh?

Fine by me.

[Wilson] Okay.

[Sintara] Okay.



[mellow music playing]

[Monk groans]

Oh, I’m sorry.

Oh, no, you’re fine.

[Monk] What, I’m not interrupting?


[door closes]

[Monk] Sorry.

[Monk clears throat]

Do you mind if I ask you something?


Um… What about Fuck did you find pandering?

Oh, uh… I can’t really put my finger on it, but… it’s not different from some of what’s out there, but it just felt… soulless… is the word that I’m going to use.

You said you agreed, right?

Yeah, I do. I think it seems written to satisfy the tastes of guilt-ridden white people.

Yeah, the kind of book critics call important and necessary, but not well-written.

[both chuckle]

[Monk] Exactly.

Okay, so… And please don’t take offense at this, but how is Fuck so very different from your book?

Is that what this is about? You think my book’s trash?

[Monk] No. To be honest, I haven’t read your book. I’ve read excerpts and it didn’t seem so dissimilar.

I did a lot of research for my book. Some of it was actually taken from real interviews. Maybe you’ve been up in your ivory tower of academia for so long you’ve forgotten that some people’s lives are hard.

Your life? You went to an exclusive bohemian college. You had a job at a fancy publishing house in New York.

So what? I don’t need to write about my life. I write about what interests people.

You write what interests white publishers fiending Black trauma porn.

They’re the one buying the manuscripts. Is it bad to cater to their tastes?

If you’re okay feeding people’s base desires for profit–

I’m okay with giving the market what it wants.

That’s how drug dealers excuse themselves.

And I think drugs should be legal.

But you’re not fed up with it? You know, Black people in poverty? Black people rapping? Black people as slaves? Black people murdered by the police? Old soaring narratives about…

[Sintara] Okay.

Black folks in dire circumstances who still managed to maintain their dignity before they die? I mean, I’m not saying these things aren’t real, but we’re also more than this. And it’s like so many writers like you can’t envision us without some white boot on our necks.

Do you get angry at Bret Easton Ellis or Charles Bukowski for writing about the downtrodden? Or is your ire strictly reserved for Black women?

Nobody reads Bukowski thinking his is the definitive white experience. But people, white people, read your book and confine us to it. They think that we’re all like that.

Then it sounds like your issue is with white people, Monk, not me.

Well, maybe, but I also think that I see the unrealized potential of Black people in this country.

Potential is what people see when they think what’s in front of them isn’t good enough.

[door opens]

[Sintara clears throat]

[door closes]

So, what are we talking about?

[mellow music playing]

[cell phone chimes]

[Ailene] We’re starting again.

I’ll be right there.

Hey, can I speak to Arthur? Yeah, it’s Monk.

Hey. I’m fine. Listen, you think you can set up another meeting with Wiley? I’ve got a new idea for him. Different kind of movie. Thanks.

I think it’s Fuck for me.

Yeah, me too.

Yeah, I agree.

I disagree. I’m sorry.

I think it would be a mistake to award this book anything.

Well, it’s two versus three, so… Fuck‘s the winner.

[Ailene] Fuck is the winner.

You know, it’s not just that it’s so affecting, I just think it’s essential to listen to Black voices right now.

[Monk] Mother. Did you… Did you know that Dad was cheating on you?

He was bad at keeping secrets.

Why didn’t you leave him?

He would’ve been even more lonely without me.

You thought he was lonely?

You father was a genius. Geniuses are lonely… because they can’t connect with the rest of us. You’re a genius, son.

Well, I certainly don’t feel like one half the time.

That’s because you’ve always been so hard on yourself, Cliffy.

[Carl] And now for the final award for the evening. I promise to leave you alone, let you eat after this. But before I announce the winner, I would like to acknowledge our judges, our incredibly diverse group of judges who’ve sacrificed valuable time, so we could all celebrate here tonight. So if you put your hands together, they did a fantastic job.

Okay. Without further ado, this year’s Literary Award goes to… Oh, I knew it. By Stagg R. Leigh, Fuck.

[crowd applauding and muttering]

Well, I’m not sure if Mr. Leigh is going to grace us with his presence here tonight. He’s notoriously cagey about attention.

Oh, hold on. Oh, okay. I see some business. Someone’s coming. Oh, Thelonious Ellison. One of our esteemed judges. Weirdly walking toward the stage. No idea why.


What’s going on?

[Monk] Excuse me. Excuse me.

[suspenseful music playing]

I have a confession to make.

[Wiley] Wait, wait, wait. Smash to black?

[bell rings]

No fucking way, dude.

What’s wrong with that?

There’s no resolution here. What’s he going to say?

I don’t know. I think that’s what’s interesting about it.

No, he should say something. What did you say?

Nothing. I walked out of the ceremony. The next day I called you to say I wanted to write this movie.

[Wiley] Well, Monk, the character should say something.

[Monk] Well, I don’t want him to make some grandiose speech spoonfeeding everyone the moral of the story. There is no moral. That’s the idea. I like the ambiguity.

Okay, look. You’re a good writer, and this is almost there. But novels aren’t movies, okay? Nuance doesn’t put asses in theater seats. We need a big finish. What is this?

It’s the seltzer you asked for.

Why is it all wet?


Condensation. Okay. You’re a fucking weatherman now.

You want anything?

Uh, no, I’m fine. Thank you.

All right. This is Monk. We’re going to make a movie with him if he can get the third act right.

Nice meeting you.

You as well.

Get me a flat white. And, hey, never again.

All right. What other endings you got in that big brain of yours?

How about if…

This year’s Literary Award goes to… by Stagg R. Leigh, Fuck.

[captivating music playing]

[crowd applauding]

[captivating music continues]

I’d like to apologize. I haven’t been myself lately.

What about that?

Will she forgive him?

I don’t know. The real Coraline won’t return my phone calls. Maybe the movie Coraline is more forgiving.

No. It’s too pat. Makes the whole thing feel like a romantic comedy. We don’t want to make a romantic comedy. We want to make something real. Give me something real.

I mean, we could just…

Hey, what’s going on?

[Monk] Excuse me. Beat it.

[suspenseful music playing]

I have a confession to make.

[door opens]

Stagg Leigh, on the ground now!

[officer 1] There he is!

[Monk] No, no. I’m not Stagg Leigh.

He doesn’t exist.

I’m Monk. Thelonious Ellison.

You’re a fugitive! On the ground now!

[Monk] No, no, no. That was all a marketing gimmick. It was all a lie.

[officer 2] He’s got a gun!

No, no! No, no!

[dramatic choral music playing]

[music crescendoes]

[Wiley] He’s dead? They smoke him? It’s perfect. Yes! That is… That is perfect. Time to pick out your tux, my brother. We’re going to the big show. Hey, come transcribe this. We got it.


[blues music playing]

[Cliff] Hey.

[Monk exhales]

So? They going to make your movie or what?

Unfortunately, yes.

Hey! You know what? Good luck finding someone handsome enough to play me.

I think they have.

Who they got?

Tyler Perry.

[both laughing]

You got me. That’s good.

[engine starts]

[Cliff] All right.

[blues music continues]

[upbeat jazz music playing]

[classical piano music playing]

[music continues]


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