Didn't Nobody Give a Shit What Happened to Carlotta


By James Hannaham

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In this “dangerously hilarious” novel (Los Angeles Times), a trans woman reenters life on the outside after more than twenty years in a men’s prison, over one consequential Fourth of July weekend—from the author of the PEN/Faulkner Award winner Delicious Foods.

Carlotta Mercedes has been misunderstood her entire life. When she was pulled into a robbery gone wrong, she still went by the name she’d grown up with in Fort Greene, Brooklyn—before it gentrified. But not long after her conviction, she took the name Carlotta and began to live as a woman, an embrace of selfhood that prison authorities rejected, keeping Carlotta trapped in an all-male cell block, abused by both inmates and guards, and often placed in solitary.

In her fifth appearance before the parole board, Carlotta is at last granted conditional freedom and returns to a much-changed New York City. Over a whirlwind Fourth of July weekend, she struggles to reconcile with the son she left behind, to reunite with a family reluctant to accept her true identity, and to avoid any minor parole infraction that might get her consigned back to lockup.

Written with the same astonishing verve of Delicious Foods, which dazzled critics and readers alike, Didn’t Nobody Give a Shit What Happened to Carlotta sweeps the reader through seemingly every street of Brooklyn, much as Joyce’s Ulysses does through Dublin. The novel sings with brio and ambition, delivering a fantastically entertaining read and a cast of unforgettable characters even as it challenges us to confront the glaring injustices of a prison system that continues to punish people long after their time has been served.


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And whoa, where did all those yesterdays go?

—Odyssey, “Native New Yorker”


Two decades and change into her beef, Carlotta Mercedes braced herself for audition number five with the New York State Board of Parole. She knew her many years in the SHU—23-7 with no TV, no radio, no books, and no good touch—would probably blow her case this time too. With so many box hits, she couldn’t finish any of the A&D programs the knuckleheads like to see. But solitary overkill wasn’t the worst of her shots Them sonofabitches said I had bad behavior, but they definition a bad behavior’s if you scream when a CO whupping yo ass like a Betty Crocker fudge cake. Why did she keep getting hit? Sometimes she thought her case grossed out the panel, other times she blamed her mini-beefs—the LOMs, the LOCs, the LORs, the LOVs. She knew the bosses were pretty much Klansmen, and at some point she always went apeshit.

“Those motherfuckers better let me out this time,” she told Frenzy, the new man she was riding with, out in the yard the day she heard. “Who is they to judge my ass?”

“Shut up, bitch,” he soothed. “You think you special? Don’t expect nothing. You got nothing coming.”

Her eyes rolled behind her lids and she whacked her arms closed. “I been had known not to spect nothing forever by this time. Fifty million motherfuckers already done told me how much nothin I got comin. So let’s see it! Where my nothin at? And who’s more of specials than I is?” Her tongue had slipped a little out of fear that he didn’t really have eyes for her, or big enough ones, anyway. She felt like some kind of monkey-mouth even before she’d shut her trap.

“If you want out, you better learn to talk right,” Frenzy said, flashing a dimple. “Folks be talking proper out there.”

“Oh yeah? Since when?” She gave him face and flipped her hair so it grazed his nose.

In 1993, Carlotta’s cousin Kafele had shot some old lady who sold little bottles of Thunderbird to the skels of Bed-Stuy and put her to sleep for a month. Carlotta was in attendance, showing off her talent for bad timing. The lady woke up again, but the bullet lowered her IQ to a chimpanzee’s and she could hardly brush her own teeth anymore. Kaffy landed in Attica, doing all day and a night. Mama must’ve stopped saving his supper. Carlotta turned state’s evidence and still got 12½ to 22. The public defender called that “getting off with a reduced sentence,” but to Carlotta that didn’t sound like getting off in any way, shape, or form. “The robbery or the aggravated assault with a deadly weapon could have gotten you twenty-five each!” the judge whined. “You’re lucky to be doing them concurrently” That’s luck, then fuck luck.

Sleeping Beauty’s daughter, Noreen Green, always dragged her bitter puss up to the hearings, and she made no exception for this sequel in the franchise. She dug harsh sentences—she thought that if you croaked before you killed your number, they wouldn’t dump your carcass off-site. When she shouted, “I want their bones to turn to dust in the prison cell!” she meant it literally. She had spat that oratory at the public defender, a pale mousy girl with big glasses who looked like a PhD candidate in macramé. Made the poor thing spaz and knock her coffee all over her papers Which show you how good the bitch had her shit together not at all.

Even before Carlotta’s time on the catwalk that day, they’d kept her in the SHU, and of course the COs tried to yank her out before her toilette. She hadn’t finished drying her sink-washed locks and massaging mess hall margarine into her scalp when they banged on the door, barking like Dobermans selling wolf tickets about an upcoming beatdown Ise like, Ho-hum, another? Cause I knew they wasn’t gon do nothing to me right before no damn parole hearing. Or maybe they was gonna but I din’t give a fuck. Part of her wanted to risk an ass-whupping, but the minute she clocked the reality—getting scalped with a bare hand, a Doc Marten jammed in her rib cage—animal fear took over. Her body cashed a check at her memory bank and she could feel the fists and boots of yesteryear colliding with tender body parts. One time a CO belted her in the face and she almost made a meal of her own tongue Ise talkin like Daffy Duck for two fuckin weeks. And of course they punished her for getting punished. Against her will, her mind snapped back to the worst of the worst, a scumbag called Dave, and something inside her gave way like a noose going slack after doing the Strange Fruit swing.

Carlotta pushed her paws through the bean slot and let the COs cuff her. But she hadn’t finished her face—she only had the blue pool-cue chalk (smuggled in from the juvie wing) on her left eyelid This gon look bad. It do look bad! If they got no kick from paroling what some of these jerk-offs called “he-she things” with painted faces, no way would they spring a freakazoid with just one blue eyelid. The minute she saw her chance, she leaned over and smudged her blinker with the one chalky finger she still had, trying to keep everything clear of her headlights, because that might juice her eyeball like a lemon Or maybe I should do like a fountain if that gon get them on my side.

They didn’t let her shower either. As she swung past the cells in the cinder-block alley, she could smell her funk through her prison grays; she hoped nobody else got a whiff Prolly can’t nobody smell nothing over the stench a this joint nohow. Let’s just say her look did not kill, but the peanut gallery whooped it up regardless, all piercing whistles, Hey, mamis, and Do-fries-go-with-that-shakes. Up at Ithaca, a lady din’t always had to bust her sparkle. These lusty hustlers weren’t faking the flattery either, no way, José. Some could take a mocking tone, but if she shook the tree, Carlotta knew she’d get a real nut Oh, honey, at this point they’d fuck a mop. She beamed at the guys and wiggled her fingers as she passed, letting the handcuffs and chains stand in for the rocks and bling she’d’ve preferred. She couldn’t call these suckers suckers, but why not gloat now, knowing the spotlight of parole would never beam down on such luckless gangstas, the same spider monkeys who’d bitten her like Rottweilers mauling a chew toy, passed her around like a spliff until the last tiny red ember in her soul almost winked out with a little puff of smoke Fuck these guys, they’d never even get a hearing, let alone five! My ass be the Susan Lucci a parole! If any of this crew did get parole or even release When hippos fly they’d probably leap back into their hustle toot sweet and boomerang into these same cells. Carlotta’s hellos took on the saccharine taste of scorn Goodbye, Beezus! Goodbye, poor little Stinkbug! Ciao bella, Glitch, you cold-blooded motherfucker! But who could tell if they’d finally boot her out of the joint? Carlotta knew what time it was, she wasn’t bumbling around in Pampers But a bitch gotta dream.

After the whole Get Smart routine with the halls and gates and checkpoints came to an end, the COs pushed open a green door Green like Frankenstein and there sat three poker faces from the NYSPB See Evil, Hear Evil, an Speak Evil fingers poised on padfolios stuffed with the details of every beef they’d give a shot that day Look at them smug-ass faces, think they some kinda gods sittin at a tribunal gon decide my fate, which I guess they kinda are, uh-oh, fuck me.

The second their prisoner made it in, the COs whipped the metal door back and locked it—clang! The clang rang out in the room like a pipe hitting a lamppost, but Carlotta had heard this noise so often that to her, it could’ve been a butterfly fart. In the back left of the room, a few yards from where the guards plopped Carlotta into a standard-issue government chair, Noreen Green sat squinting, crinkling her hand inside a plastic snack bag of—was it pretzels? Or popcorn? Popcorn? Like my suffering is fucking entertainment for your stupid ass? Unlike most victims, Noreen had some sort of special dispensation that allowed her to be in the room More like a cousin who a judge or some shit and had dragged her malfunctioning parent with her, this time in a wheelchair—maybe she thought some extra visual oomph would get Carlotta buried under the jail the way she wanted. The mom, Dorothy, sat silent, lolling her head side to side, grinding her teeth. In any case, she looked cranky. The lights were on in that noggin, but somebody had locked the door—Kaffy, specifically. She seemed worse off than last time, season 19, episode 4 Oh shit, she brung her again? This fucking sucks. Why do I even bother?

One of the panel’s poker faces, none of whom Carlotta recognized This must be a new crew, maybe they gonna see my beef different belonged to a white guy with a baldy bean, round and rough as a basketball. He had on a too-tight suit, probably from a discount outlet; his giant biceps puffed out the sleeves. So much for tailoring. Dead center sat a fiftyish white lady in a black blouse rocking frosted highlights and oversize bifocals; she could pass for a daytime talk-show host from the ’80s Maybe she’ll spring me in exchange for some style tips. The woman kept twisting her gold rings like Gollum or somebody. Off to the right, Carlotta felt judgment pouring from the stink eye of a Black woman with tiny rectangular glasses and a conservative hairdo in the shape of the Liberty Bell, wearing a suit the color of a grape Popsicle. She had a more mysterious look about her than the other two, and that sparked fear in Carlotta She don’t look like the type who gon give you no racial break, she look like the type who give you a hard time cause they think you gonna try some nigga trick they already know, bein a nigga theyself. Try to catch you out when you ain’t even frontin.

The tribunal got the ball rolling by stating their names: Demodocus Johnson Demodocus? He Black? He look too light to be a brotha, but you never know…Helen Alcinous, and Malea Thoon, but the names vanished from her head in no time Damn, I can’t never remember nobody’s name, not even when my life literally depend on it! COs musta knocked my memory clean out my head. Sometime I wish they had. The drab chair had a green seat with a rip down the middle, a hole that seemed, like every hole did now, like a good place to stow a shank or stash some molly. Moving her fingers between her legs, she probed the opening to see if someone else had gotten there first and left her a present. She almost forgot to react when Basketball Head piped up.

“Can you please state your name for the record?” he asked.

Carlotta had picked up a reflex for whenever a boss quizzed her. She knew she had to fake like mad, to knuckle under like a trained bear riding a unicycle and balancing a ball on its nose at some Ringling Brothers joint. You had to stuff your ego up your ass and kowtow to the COs and the other shitheads; you had to grind your attitude into a fine powder and try to look as tame as a Ring Ding, what with the mogwai raising hell in your skull all the time, making you so rowdy, so loco Sometime it just be them up in there too, my ass wasn’t nowhere near that brain. She knew she couldn’t tell him her name; an honest answer to even this Mickey Mouse question would bring down enough drama to keep her on ice until she hit the half-century mark. She jammed her frustration into her stomach and took a gander at Basketball Head again. He reminded her of one of those Chinese dogs with the smushy muzzles What they call that?

She could not say Carlotta Mercedes, and she knew it. She pushed her fingers deeper between her legs, careful not to disturb Señora Problema, and tugged at the strings hanging off the sides of the break in the vinyl. Could be every con who ever sat in this chair had done a little fraying. Frenzy had flopped seven times to her four, and he had the knowledge. “The board ain’t gon axe you no questions they don’t got the answers to right there in that jacket,” he told her. “And don’t be altercatin with how they spin your beef, okay? Cause if you tell em they wrong, specially when they is wrong, they just gon give you the heave-ho and bum-rush yo ass right back to D Block.” It had slipped her mind to ask if her name change would rattle them, but now it seemed like, Duh. To call herself Carlotta right off the bat would be suicide. It would lead back to Dave—the thought hollowed her out.

She snarfed down a loogie, trying not to show off too much hate for her deadname, closed her eyes so she could roll them without the board seeing, and sucked in a big breath. “Dustin Chambers, sir,” she said. Then she yanked her hands from between her thighs, raised her wrists, cocked her head to one side, and tried to push her hair back with both cuffed hands. Not easy, so she did it slowly, fanning out her fingers as she went, trying to kill Dustin Chambers again and shout Carlotta Mercedes with body language alone.

“I’m sorry, can you repeat that?” said Basketball Head.

Carlotta froze, dropped her hands back in her lap, and locked her jaw I know I said that shit loud enough, an I know you heard me! Frenzy had coached her on this too. “They gon try to get your goat,” he’d said. “Provoke you to see if you gon freak out and fuck up, which make they job easier cause they get to send your ass right back to the joint. That shit you definitely gotta resist. Don’t give em nothing.”

Anger management, Carlotta thought. It was just a phrase, though—she had never had any real training Anger management. She squeezed her knees and counted down from ten in her head—she figured that was how people on TV kept from flipping out. In her mind, a song her mother used to sing along with in her Colombian accent took over—Think about what you going to do to me—but she gave no outward sign of inward singing. A little smile found its way onto her face, though—its fakeness felt like a layer of hot wax over her real face. She swallowed again and said the name again, at an almost mocking volume. She pretended he’d asked for her brother’s name. “Dustin Chambers.”

“Now, Mr. Chambers,” he kept on, “I have here that you’ve served twenty years of a 12½ to 22 sentence on an armed assault and robbery?”

Carlotta nodded Not countin the year in jail fore the sentencing, but I ain’t gonna split no hairs, and said, “That is correct” How I coulda did the whole twenty-one an then some is I’m a fuckin bruja.

Basketball Head softly wheezed, “Armed assault and robbery,” all the time scribbling some note with a ballpoint pen, probably the thing he’d just said.

Ms. Thoon took over, like a script she and Basketball Head had to follow I guess they kinda do got a script. Her voice had a surprisingly smoky, luscious quality. Frenzy had schooled her on how you didn’t need any real bona fides to get on a parole board, and that thought looped in her mind as she listened, trying to knock them off whatever pedestal they thought they were on Miss Lady Day here could use that voice to be singing standards on Saturdays down at the local motor lodge. But her voice also sounded serious, like a newscaster’s. “Mr. Chambers, can you give us a detailed picture of what took place on that night, the night of August 14, 1993?”

This I could do. She concentrated on talking proper. “Saturday night. It was about sundown, around 8:22 p.m., and I was on my way to my best friend’s birthday party. As I’m walking over there, I had the intention to hit the Sippy Sip liquor store, located at 726 Myrtle Avenue, corner of Walworth Street.” She paused. “Shoot. I mean buy something from there, not hit it like rob it. I was gonna grab a bottle of André or something and then stop in at Gloria’s Thrift Gifts, which is a shop just up the street, so I can get a present for my friend. They closed at nine cause Gloria didn’t usually even show up till around three on Saturdays. She from Trinidad. And, lo and behold, I see my cousin Kaffy crossing Myrtle, and I’m like, ‘Hey,’ and like, ‘Oh, are you also going to Doodle’s party?’ Her name is Deirdre but everybody calls her Doodle. He’s like, ‘No, I’m going to Sippy Sip,’ and he points to it cause we’re only a block away, on Spencer, and I said, ‘So am I!’” She had rehearsed this saga maybe three hundred times, and her lawyer had coached her to curb her potty mouth and include small details like exact times and the names of streets and establishments to boost her cred. Nowadays it came more or less naturally, but she could rattle it off like something she had memorized Like shit that happened to somebody else ass.

Ms. Thoon rifled through the papers on her clipboard and stared at something written there. “Mr. Chambers, I believe the record states that at that moment, you were carrying a loaded weapon, were you not?”

“That is true, yes” Were you not. What the fuck, all this stupid language! Why they gotta talk like they in a Shakespeare play all the fucking time? Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou’s ass in the hole?

“Are you the sort of person who carries a loaded weapon to a birthday party?”

What kinda condescending bullshit question is that? Who gon be fool enough to say yes to that? Like, Yes, ma’am, I’m so crazy I’d bring a flamethrower to a baby shower. As a gift! Now parole me or I’ma bite off your titty. What? But Frenzy had given her hell about telling them exactly what they wanted to hear “at every possible fucking moment you could.” She thought about his full, wet lips talking, how the sneaky soul patch under them wiggled like a caterpillar, then the eyes in her mind found their way around his body to a tattoo of a phoenix spanning his entire back. “At the time, the record states that I was, ma’am, but since I’ve been inside I have done a great deal of work to change who I am. I have been a part of the recovery program even though I did not have a substance-abuse problem, I gained permission to do laundry duty through my years of good behavior, and I even briefly worked in the law liberry. I guess in Bed-Stuy in them days, there almost wasn’t really no other type of person but one who was holding. Cause the other type was called dead.” Carlotta widened her eyes. She saw the left side of the Black lady’s cheek twist upward slightly Also, I spent bout six a them years in solitary cause a how much I got raped an beat up, an I quit them substances cold turkey, but fuck it, they don’t wanna hear none a that. Plus that shit din’t even help. It helped Dave. She heard the scenes in her mind again and the blood rushed out of her head Rape! Leave me alone, you son of a bitch! Somebody help!

“I’m concerned that you’re making light of this situation, Mr. Chambers,” Basketball Head barked, bouncing his ballpoint clicker on the desk. Noreen grunted from the peanut gallery.

She shook herself out of the starry-eyed dizziness for a second. “Oh, it ain’t no light, don’t worry bout that.” Carlotta felt she had lost Basketball Head already, and since the vote had to be unanimous, the ladies would need to struggle hard against him if they wanted to grant her parole That din’t look too likely. Nother day, nother hit. I only got a year an a half left anyways, so I mean, fuck it, maybe I should just kill my number an kick it with my man. Her hand went back to fiddling with the rip in the chair. Basketball Head sure had a brick wall for a body Hmm, do that cop attitude make him sexier or not sexy? Maybe sexy at some other bitch’s parole hearing. Suddenly he pushed all the papers off the table, grabbed her by the shoulders, fucked her ass pussy silly, and granted her parole when he came Nah, he ain’t really did that, that’s just my li’l fantasy.

“I’m not, sir. I just felt at the time that I needed to be ready for pretty much anything?” I also adore guns. Damn, it’s too fuckin easy to fuck this up. But I can’t give up—maybe the women gon be on my side. My sistas. Sorta? The white lady with the frosted hair didn’t ever say anything, but she smiled—not a big smile, but a steady one. Like the Virgin Mary. “So Cousin Kaffy and I walk in the store together. I start looking for the discount liquors—Doodle ain’t that picky—and before I know what’s happening, Kaffy had pulled a gun on the lady behind the counter. There was a bulletproof cage thing for the cashier, but Kaffy always been cute, he don’t look threatening, even though he actually a real dangerous dude. He pretended to have a question about a bottle of Malibu rum or something—like, he deliberately chose a sweet type of liquor so she wouldn’t get suspicious—and he got Mrs. Green to come out the cage. And that’s when he pulled out the piece—the gun. She tried to go back in, but he yanked her out.” Everyone heard Noreen sniffle and then blow her nose, making a sound like a broken trumpet. People turned for a second to look at her and her mother until the image got too sad.

“And what did you do?” Ms. Thoon asked, tugging down a purple sleeve.

She know what I did! She seened the damn videotape! This complete bullshit. I’ma tell her what I said instead. “I said, ‘Kaffy what the—what the F are you doing? We not about to rob this joint. If you need money, I will lend you money, we will find you money somewheres, but don’t do this, and don’t drag me into it neither!’ I said, ‘Ain’t you apposed a be getting a GED? Din’t you wanna be a engineer?’ But he didn’t pay me no mind. Later I heard he was doing it for a promotion in his gang. I was like, Gang? What gang he could join at his age? The Little Rascals? He knew I was holding, so he yelled at me to cover him while he went into the little room and jacked the register.”

“Did you cover him?”

“No, ma’am, I did not. But that’s part of what caused the problem. See, Kaffy pulled Mrs. Green into the room by the neck and made her take the money out the register. But somehow she got away and start to stumble out the little room. That’s when Kaffy shot her. For the life of me, I do not know what possessed him to aim at her head. He had a very difficult upbringing. We all did.”

“You guys have had a rough time,” the Virgin chimed in. “He’s serving a life sentence.”

“Yes, that’s correct” An prolly won’t never get no parole, given what happening to me.

“It should be longer!” Noreen yelled at nobody with stabbing anger.

Longer than life? Like they gon put a jail cell round his grave? Honest to God, honey, he ain’t going nowheres.

“How do you account for the fact that, on the surveillance-camera video, you can clearly be seen drawing your own weapon, Mr. Chambers?” said the Virgin, pushing her glasses up the bridge of her nose for the ninth time to rest in the kidney-shaped divots there. She had upped her angle, Carlotta suspected, because her previous comments had seemed soft You two-faceded ho! Y’all got my goat, m’kay? Y’all done curried my motherfucking goat!

“Around that same moment, I aimed my weapon at Kaffy, trying to get him not to shoot the woman, but it was too late. If you could hear sound on that video, you’d hear me shouting, ‘Kaffy, don’t shoot! Put the gun down!’ I didn’t never fire my gun neither.”

Basketball Head came in for the kill. “You’re aware, though, that it appears that you are aiming directly at the cashier?”

Here we go again. “Yes, sir, I am aware of that, sir. Mrs. Green was between the two of us, and that makes it difficult to tell. But y’all has seened the footage and y’all know that the ‘cinematography’ or whatever? It ain’t that good.” It was an old line. The women smiled, but not Basketball Head. “The ballistic evidence also had shown that I didn’t fire no gun. Any gun” I’m a fucking dead duck. Like a Peking duck hanging in the window a the skankiest greasy-spoon joint in Chinatown.

Malea Thoon took over, her voice mellow and motherly, almost tender now. Perhaps Carlotta had misjudged her. “Do you have any regrets about your part in this crime?”

“Oh, gosh,” she said, jumping at the chance to show remorse I got this. “Regrets. Talk about regrets. If you drilled a hole in my heart, right here,” Carlotta said, jabbing her rib cage with her thumb, jangling the cuffs, “or anywhere, really, y’all would see all the regret draining out of me like Ise a aquarium tank and the water was regret. Then once all the regret had spilt out, my whole body would flop down like a empty garbage bag, because there wouldna been hardly nothing inside me but regret. I eat, sleep, and dream bout regret ever since this happened. My life became a path with a fork in it when all that happened, an there’s nothing I wish I could do more than go back an take that other road, the one that din’t lead to no twenty years in prison, to none a this” Cept getting with Frenzy. “I wish I didn’t have a cousin Kaffy, and I almost wish I ain’t had a best friend Doodle, especially one who had a birthday party that night. I wish I didn’t have a gun on me” More like I wish I had left it at home, that shit was my favorite gun, a absolutely gorgeous Llama Micromax with a mother-of-pearl inlay, cost me fifteen hundred dollars I saved for two years, never gon see that shit again. “I ain’t got nothing but regret.” Frenzy had instructed her to play it up when they asked about guilty feelings. She wondered if she’d overdone it, but she had to admit that she actually felt about 80 percent of what she’d said. Just saying the words made her eyes fill with tears. Like the actress she’d named herself for, she whipped up the memory of her fucked-up past into a meringue of mostly real emotion.

“Boo-hoo-hoo!” Noreen shouted from the other side of the room.


  • “Razor-sharp . . . A hilarious, righteous transgender remix of The Odyssey . . . Carlotta’s bold voice hooks readers from the beginning, making them willing ride-or-dies . . . Hannaham hasn’t merely given the classics an update; he has given readers an unforgettable glimpse into the injustices the carceral system heaps on women like Carlotta—and deftly made space in literature for a distinctive voice that deserves a place in the modern literary pantheon.”—Los Angeles Times
  • “Captivating . . . Hannaham’s bumper-car narrative astonishes . . . Carlotta is irrepressible. No matter how much the prison system has abused her, regardless of the coldblooded stipulations of her parole, she is brave enough to be guided by the woman inside her tireless heart . . . At a time when families with trans and gay children feel persecuted by state governments, Hannaham makes Carlotta heroic. Don’t let the title of this wondrous novel fool you. Hannaham cares deeply about Carlotta. From a mash-up of perspectives, he writes like a guardian angel.”—John Irving, New York Times Book Review
  • “Hannaham’s buoyant sophomore novel introduces us to the unforgettable Carlotta Mercedes, an Afro-Latinx trans woman released from a men’s prison after serving two decades… Over the course of one zany Fourth of July weekend, Carlotta descends into Brooklyn’s roiling underbelly on a quest to stand in her truth. Angry, saucy, and joyful, Carlotta is a true survivor—one whose story shines a disinfecting light on the injustices of our world.”—Adrienne Westenfeld, Esquire
  • “Searing and often hilarious.”—New York Magazine
  • “[Carlotta] the bold, brash, and bitingly hilarious protagonist, seeks to come to terms with the Fort Greene, Brooklyn that she left behind. Hannaham’s novel has drawn comparisons to Ulysses with its style, specificity, and snapshot framing.”—Laura Zornosa, Time
  • “Hilarious and heartbreaking, with language that reaches for your throat . . . With an unforgettable voice, Hannaham takes on gentrification, the prison and parole system, and more.”—Xochitl Gonzalez, The Atlantic
  • “An exuberant odyssey… Carlotta’s passion for life is unstoppable. Her story beats on, the narrative third person regularly bursting open into a surging stream of consciousness.”—The Guardian
  • “Hannaham’s virtues as a novelist are many. He is not only masterful at voice, but at creating compelling characters and enthralling swiftly paced plots. Despite tackling heavy topics, there’s humor and playfulness in his prose. But Didn’t Nobody Give a Shit What Happened to Carlotta is more than a page-turner, it says something we all need to hear.”—Rachel León, Southern Review of Books
  • “As a creative dynamo, Hannaham is the real deal . . . Didn’t Nobody Give a Shit What Happened to Carlotta is his most tender and tenacious novel yet, with the ear, soul, mouth, and swagger of a real New Yorker.”—Interview Magazine
  • “We were big fans of James Hannaham’s previous novel Delicious Foods… The long wait for his follow-up is finally over and it’s a doozy: a raucous social comedy that takes on our carceral system, the poor treatment of trans people, and capitalist failings in one unmissable package.”—Chicago Review of Books
  • “Timely, gripping, and compellingly written… this book had me from the first page… Hannaham introduces us to the distinct narrative voice of Carlotta, who’s willing to cut through all the noise to tell her truth in her own distinctly hilarious way… This is a book that deserves to be read by anyone who’s interested in how public policy affects the everyday lives of marginalized communities in America.”—David Vogel, Buzzfeed
  • "A bon vivant of a book that makes you feel like you're at a party from the minute you open the front pages... It's manic and colorful and riotous and filled with energy...I love James Hannaham's writing"—Neda Ulaby, NPR
  • “Lovingly linguistic and equal parts Zora Neale Hurston, Chester Himes, and the now mythical Stagg R. Leigh, this refreshingly cool look at the new New York through old eyes is the Blackest book I’ve read in years. Carlotta is more than one to remember, she’s a treasure.”—Paul Beatty, Booker Prize–winning author of The Sellout
  • “A roller-coaster ride of a story... I love Didn’t Nobody Give A Shit What Happened to Carlotta so much I must include it... The author writes these characters with so much love and compassion. It made me think of James McBride a bit, particularly Deacon King Kong."—Ben Yakas, Gothamist
  • "A remarkable novel…the hilarity, the sharpness, and the wild lyricism of Hannaham's Delicious Foods resurface in Carlotta, along with an interest in racism, community, family, love, the possibilities of language, and the preciousness of the freedom to be who you are"

    Francine Prose, The New York Review of Books
  • “Hannaham’s latest novel is at once irreverently funny and devastatingly sad, a quixotic tale about the queerness of missed time; how, for the most marginalized, the shackles of the past and uncertain promises of the future make dwelling in the present seem impossible.” —Michelle Hart, Electric Lit
  • “Like the transformed city she navigates to great comic effect, Carlotta is irrepressible. She endures. James Hannaham won multiple accolades for his previous outing, Delicious Foods; with Carlotta, it’s a good bet more are on the way.”—Cat Auer, AV Club
  • “Maybe the comic novel is the best way to explore some of the least funny aspects of our society. Maybe the justice system is so immoral, the forces of capitalism so relentless, the treatment of some of our citizens so indefensible, that we have no choice but to turn heartbreak into hilarity, to laugh. Carlotta is a beautiful, unsettling book. The title is a trick; James Hannaham gives a shit, and so should everyone else.”—Rumaan Alam, New York Times bestselling author of Leave the World Behind
  • “Borne along by a riotous current of verbal ingenuity, James Hannaham’s new novel is—like its endlessly vibrant protagonist—a marvel of invention. There wasn’t a page that didn't surprise me. By its end, this book had conjured a depth of identification with its heroine that I was not prepared for. Utterly brilliant.”—Ayad Akhtar, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Homeland Elegies
  • “Carlotta is a vision to behold as she attempts reentry into a now-unfamiliar world. In Hannaham’s hands, this theme shimmers with humor, pathos, and that kind of queer energy that readers love.”—Jim Piechota, Edge Media
  • Didn’t Nobody Give a Shit What Happened to Carlotta expertly balances the seriousness of the criminal legal system with the irreverence, absurdity, humor, and healing connections of Carlotta’s world.”—Sarah Neilson, them.com
  • “James Hannaham’s Carlotta is an astonishing act of empathy and identification, which will shake readers out of their torpor and remind them that fiction at its highest is a form of metempsychosis. Carlotta steps off the page and into your room, and stands there, implacable, educating you on her terms.”—Lucy Sante, author of Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York
  • “Engrossing… A brash, ambitious novel carried by an unforgettable narrator… in its day-in-the-life framing, hyperlocality, and rhetorical invention, [Didn’t Nobody Give a Shit What Happened to Carlotta] is also an homage to Ulysses… Carlotta deserves a lot of things society rarely provides to women like her—among them, a role in great fiction. Hannaham gives Carlotta her due.”—Kirkus (starred review)
  • “Hannaham has created a gloriously original character with an unmistakable voice and an unforgettable story… Carlotta’s journey from Ithaca, carrying her talisman, antagonizing a one-eyed man, and plunging into a drug-induced fever dream while seeking a lost son, echoes another linguistically brilliant novel, James Joyce's Ulysses.”—Booklist (starred review)
  • “This is the fastest, funniest, and most furious novel I’ve read in ages. In James Hannaham’s blistering prose, his heroine’s return from the American gulag to gentrified Brooklyn becomes an odyssey through the absurd, cruel, and sometimes miraculous condition of being poor, Black, and trans in a system and a city determined to erase the Carlottas of this world. The book is a tour de force of a spirit undefeated by this journey.”—Adam Haslett, author of the national bestseller and Pulitzer Prize finalist Imagine Me Gone
  • “As if by means of some mashup of Hubert Selby, Darius James, and Bruce Wagner, James Hannaham’s tripwire provocations and dazzling verbal fireworks give way to a fathomless tenderness and remorse. His Carlotta is spectacularly Brooklyn and devastatingly human all the way down to the bone.”—Jonathan Lethem, New York Times bestselling author of Motherless Brooklyn
  • "Possibly the most raucous, exuberant, and edgy Odyssey retelling in recent memory (if ever), Hannaham’s novel reimagines the epic Greek wanderer as Carlotta Mercedes, a Black Columbian trans woman recently released from prison in Ithaca, New York, after a twenty-year sentence."—Crime Reads
  • “Hannaham’s latest novel is at once irreverently funny and devastatingly sad, a quixotic tale about the queerness of missed time; how, for the most marginalized, the shackles of the past and uncertain promises of the future make dwelling in the present seem impossible.”—Michelle Hart, Electric Lit
  • Praise for Delicious Foods
  • "[A] sensational new novel about the tenacity of racism and its bizarre permutations... bounce[s] off the page with the sharpest, wittiest, most unsettling cultural criticism I've read in years... Hannaham is a propulsive storyteller... the whole story speeds through the dark... never takes its foot off the gas... An archetypal tale of American struggle... Reminiscent of Edward P. Jones's The Known World...[A] fantastically creative performance... [An] insightful and ultimately tender novel... You will devour this book."—Ron Charles, Washington Post
  • "A writer of major importance... Moments of deft lyricism are Hannaham's greatest strength, and those touches of beauty and intuitive metaphor make the novel's difficult subject matter easier to bear... The novel's finest moments are... in the singular way that Hannaham can make the commonplace spring to life with nothing more than astute observations and precise language."—New York Times Book Review
  • "Hannaham's prose is gloriously dense and full of elegant observations that might go unmade by a lesser writer. There is a great warmth in this novel that tackles darkness... [Hannaham] creates full-bodied characters. Even the minor figures are drawn with subtle details... Hannaham's decision to give a voice to crack—in the character Scotty—occasions some lively and inventive writing. Scotty has swagger and a sly sense of humor, and when he narrates he holds your attention... The character is complex, both tender and ruthless... A grand, empathetic, and funny novel about addiction, labor exploitation, and love... Delicious Foods should be read for its bold narrative risks, as well as the heart and humor of its author's prose."—Roxane Gay, Bookforum
  • "Harrowing... Hannaham details a cycle of despair and enslavement in the poverty-ridden South... What emerges is the powerful tale of a place whose past is 'a ditch so deep with bodies it could pass for a starless night.'"—The New Yorker
  • "Delicious Foods has plenty of magic in it, and plenty of tragedy... A powerful allegory about modern-day slavery, Delicious Foods explores the ways that even the most extraordinary black men and women are robbed of the right to control their own lives... [Hannaham] is serious about investigating the long-term effects of internalized racism, and the despair that prevents people from helping themselves... A sharp critique of the American belief that you can do anything as long as you work hard."—Entertainment Weekly
  • "The novel's unforgettable cast... satisfies all our readerly cravings and without ostentation... The story's twists are at times implausible but nonetheless are a great feat of imagination. Hannaham has put his characters in the perfect conditions for these issues to play out--and for us to believe them... From what we've seen go down at Delicious, from the tenacity of this mother and son, we know it's love that keeps us going. Love is a rock every bit as hard as those diamond stars. Its indestructible beauty is enough to break down the earthly rocks that are its meager imitations."—The Rumpus
  • "James Hannaham's satirical and darkly humorous look at racism, drugs, and the American South begins intensely... and doesn't let up... This brutal and beautiful tome is irresistible."—USA Today
  • "Delicious Foods is not a story about the death of the American Dream, but an illumination of the fantasies that surround it, and the denial that permits us to believe in its innocence. It is also a compelling and haunting tale of family, responsibility, and endurance."—Guernica
  • "An audacious, heartbreaking story... that is intended to be allegorical, but unearths a horror that is real and whose roots reach all the way back to slavery... Hannaham brilliantly creates a metaphor for human trafficking, modern-day industrialism, the pernicious effects of the war on drugs, and society's greedy need for 'quality' delivered as cheaply as possible... Delicious Foods stay[s] in the mind... A breathtaking depiction of how difficult is to break a spirit down, and how stubborn and resilient people can be. "—Maclean's
  • "Strange and often haunting, Hannaham's brilliant look at the parent and child relationship, and the things that can tear that normally unbreakable bond apart, could be one of the best novels of 2015."—Men's Journal
  • "Disturbing and addictive... This dark story is horrific, engrossing, deeply moving, and surprisingly funny at times... The subject matter in this tale of survival is uncomfortable and unfortunately all-too believable, but Hannaham's inventive storytelling and care for his characters fill this bleak world with much needed hope and love. Delicious Foods is hard to swallow at times, but also hard to put down."—Winnipeg Free Press
  • "In lesser hands, Delicious Foods could easily have been a dark and dreary saga of misery and pain. Instead, Hannaham gleefully rides the lightness. There is no dwelling in sorry here—only movement to find a way forward to something better. No matter how bad things get, you are breathing, you are alive. Therein lies the joy."—The Root

On Sale
Aug 8, 2023
Page Count
320 pages
Back Bay Books

James Hannaham

About the Author

James Hannaham is the author of the novels God Says No, a Stonewall Book Award finalist, and Delicious Foods, which won the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award and was a Los Angeles Times Book Prize and Dayton Literary Peace Prize finalist as well as a New York Times Notable Book. He lives in Brooklyn, where he teaches at the Pratt Institute.

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