By David Canfield
October 01, 2019 at 11:00 AM EDT
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James McBride is ready to tell the story of Deacon King Kong.

The decorated writer’s long-awaited new novel publishes next year, and EW has an exclusive first look. The book’s arrival is well-timed: It’ll publish just a few weeks after Showtime debuts The Good Lord Bird, a series adaptation of McBride’s National Book Award-winning 2013 novel, featuring a packed cast including Ethan Hawke and Daveed Diggs. Deacon King Kong finds the author, who’s also worked on a pair of Spike Lee screenplays, headed back in time for a fascinating exploration of faith and race relations in America.

Deacon King Kong is focused on the surprising story of the shooting of a Brooklyn drug dealer and the people who witnessed it. In September 1969, a fumbling, cranky old church deacon known as Sportcoat shuffles into the courtyard of the Cause Houses housing project in south Brooklyn, pulls a .45 from his pocket, and in front of everybody shoots the project’s drug dealer at point-blank range. McBride follows the people affected by the shooting: the victim, the African-American and Latino residents who witnessed it, the white neighbors, the local cops assigned to investigate, the members of the Five Ends Baptist Church where Sportcoat was deacon, the neighborhood’s Italian mobsters, and Sportcoat himself.

“The characters in Deacon King Kong are people I’ve known and loved my whole life,” McBride tells EW. “The church that’s often depicted in media is a place I don’t recognize. It’s flawed, surely, with jackleg preachers and numbskulls who use religion as a kind of baseball bat, but it’s also full of fun-loving people who know how to laugh, who do good work for no pay, and who try to live by real principles in a world where villains succeed and heroes die. I wouldn’t be where I am without the old-time Baptist church. It’s given me everything.”

It’ll mark a seven-year gap between novels for McBride; his last, The Good Lord Bird, went back further in time, imagining the relationship between abolitionist John Brown and the slave who joins him in his mission.

As for Deacon King Kong, McBride adds, “I wanted to show how a tiny church can foster big love and courage in a community. It happens every day in this world — and it’s not always a church, either. Sometimes it’s a synagogue, or a mosque, or a temple. What difference does it make? Only the love counts. If your house is on fire and your children are in it, do you care who brings the water?”

McBride has exclusively shared the cover for Deacon King Kong with EW, which you can see below. The novel publishes March 3 and is available for pre-order.

Penguin

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