Serving House: A Journal of Literary Arts
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SHJ Issue 13
Fall 2015

Flying Home: Seven Stories of the Secret City

by David Nicholson

David Nicholson is such a gifted, assured storyteller that I read Flying Home in a single sitting, pulled from one beautifully written, wise, and moving story to the next, so enchanted by the lives he explores in the “secret city,” and by his skill, that I was unaware of the passage of time. This is superbly crafted, memorable writing that will leave readers hungering for more.

— Charles Johnson, National Book Award-winning
author of Middle Passage



Paycock Press

Cover photo of Flying Home, stories by David Nicholson

Although the stories in Flying Home are set in Washington, D.C., they do not focus on the politics of the American government, but on the “secret city” of ordinary people, “the blue-collar and no-collar workers, almost entirely black, who have survived for generations in the shadow of the Capitol” (Nicholas Mancusi, The New York Times).

• Read an excerpt: Carolina Is Dancing (the shortest story in the collection)

As David Nicholson describes at his website:

[Flying Home] is set in an imagined Washington neighborhood much like Bloomingdale, the one I grew up in. While each story has different foreground characters, many of the stories share the same background characters. Most of the people in these stories are ordinary working men and women—maids, taxi drivers, janitors, barbers, and handymen....

The phrase “the secret city” comes from W.E.B. Du Bois’s 1932 Crisis article, “The Secret City: An Impression of Colored Washington.” Much has changed since Du Bois wrote but, in many ways, black Washington remains a secret city, invisible to the whites who also inhabit it.
So far, the book of the summer for me is David Nicholson’s newly-published Flying Home: Seven Stories of the Secret City. Nicholson writes beautifully about the lives of Washingtonians, past and present, who rarely get a voice in American fiction. The heart of D.C. still beats in these short stories. I put this one on the shelf alongside
the work of Edward P. Jones.

— DC author George Pelecanos
in Washington City Paper


Book details on our Bookshelf

David Garrrett’s interview of Nicholson

Telling Our Stories, Preserving Culture, a review by Jonetta Rose Barras in East of the River DC News

Nicholas Mancusi on Flying Home in The New York Times “Sunday Book Review,” 2 October 2015 (scroll to bottom of article)

Short stories of D.C.’s past and present depict a city in the throes of change, a review by Natalie Murchison in Washington City Paper (26 June 2015)

David Nicholson, like his literary ancestors Ralph Ellison, James Alan McPherson, and Bernard Malamud, illuminates the mythic in the everyday lives of Americans whose stories are all too rarely deemed worthy of art. The peach tree in an old woman’s yard in urban Washington glows with nearly magical fruit that tempts a young man to a betrayal he knows will rot his soul. A chorus of middle-aged black men in a barber shop hold a symposium on the nature of love. James Brown and Jimi Hendrix walk Nicholson’s streets, but so, too, do anonymous heroes such as a black handyman who once pitched to Babe Ruth, a janitor struggling to maintain his dignity despite financial reverses, a disheveled beggar woman whose mere survival strikes us as a miracle. In Flying Home, David Nicholson shines his compassion and wisdom on them all.

— Eileen Pollack, author of
In the Mouth and Breaking and Entering


“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury