I'm thrilled to announce Blake Blackman's first book, "The Journey of the Black Heart." Not just because she's one of my closest friends, I really believe this is an extraordinary project. Because I literally want everybody I know to read it, I'm posting my foreword to the book below. If you like what you read, I hope you'll go purchase it right now, here:
I don’t know how to prepare you for what you will experience in the pages ahead, because I’m not entirely sure how to prepare you for Blake. The book, like her, kind of just has to happen to you.
I’m struck by just how it embodies everything that she is—at high voltage. I’m not sure how you get this much tenderness and toughness into one book, or how you wrap together this much hope and heartbreak. I don’t know how The Journey of the Black Heart manages to be alternately as artful, earthy, funny, wise, or textured as it is. I only know that it’s a book brimming with the ache that makes us human. It is all the things life is, simultaneously. It is lightning in a bottle. In other words, it is very much like Blake herself.
I came to know her about mid-way through the story she tells here, when she worked the front of the Common Market Deli and I was an upstart young pastor. The kindness of heart was so apparent even then, the purity of spirit and conviction; the earthy, profane eloquence and unforced poetry of her stories. But those were days when she wore a lot of hurt on her sleeve, too, the hurts she writes about so eloquently here. We liked each other instantly, which made way for the friendship she describes later in the book. I wouldn’t want to oversimplify any of it, but I think it’s pretty fair to say that we had a tacit agreement: she taught me about the world, and I taught her about Jesus, which worked out really well for both of us. It wasn’t too long after that Blake was playing a central role in the church we had started, and we were dreaming and scheming on how to love our city together.
We’ve been friends long enough now for our roles to have since reversed. When I felt like my world was crashing down, Blake was the one teaching me about Jesus—sometimes through her own stories, sometimes rehearsing back to me my own words. She was reminding me of all the ways God had met her in her own shame and guilt and loss, like she does here. She was the one telling me that I could and would survive. Blake’s famous for being a big talker, but the truth of her stories are even bigger, so I believed her. They carried me, as I trust they will carry you.
I remember distinctly in the moments when the fog was the thickest and the night the longest, just how much I just loved to hear Blake pray. Sometimes even something simple, like the way she’d pray before a meal, was so earnest and authentic, so heavenly and yet so tethered to the ground, that it would bring my own feet back down to earth, even if just for a minute.
I’ve now taken solace in Blake’s stories of life and loss and Jesus more times than I can remember. I would feel stingy to keep them to myself, even though Blake’s the rare friend you get in your life you would just assume not share with anyone else. But she’s also the best storyteller I know, and I’ve known since I met her stories had the weight of destiny on them. I’ve always been eager for the day that, rather than keeping them at home, she would put them on the bus—like kids bundled up for the first day of school—and release them into the world. The fact that you’re reading these stories now means they have arrived at the city of their final destination.
Last year, Blake introduced me to Patti Smith’s haunting memoir, Just Kids, and it instantly became one of my favorite books. In the book, she asks, “why can’t I write something that would awake the dead? That pursuit is what burns most deeply.” I think the highest compliment I could pay Blake here now is that she has written a book would make Patti proud. This is a book that awakens the dead.