Pandemic's effect on celebrated 'State of Nation' author

Posted 6/12/20

David Jackson Ambrose, a resident of East Falls and author of the powerful novel, “State of the Nation,” (and a soon-to-be released novel, untitled for now) is seen here with a friend, Maria …

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Pandemic's effect on celebrated 'State of Nation' author

David Jackson Ambrose, a resident of East Falls and author of the powerful novel, “State of the Nation,” (and a soon-to-be released novel, untitled for now) is seen here with a friend, Maria Milligan, at a book launch before the pandemic at Wooden Shoe Books, 704 South St. More information at

by Len Lear

When I asked celebrated author David Jackson Ambrose last week how the pandemic has changed his life, he replied, “We don’t realize how spoiled we are. We’ve come to take for granted that this is the land of plenty. When I go to the market, week after week, and the aisles continue to be empty, where there has been no Lysol for months, I know it sounds melodramatic, but I am on the verge of tears. I can’t imagine the greatest country on earth being unable to provide Lysol.

“That is sort of tongue-in-cheek, but really, in the supply and demand model of this capitalist society, when demand rises, supply is supposed to rise accordingly, right? So Where the hell is the Lysol? This pandemic is the earth rebooting itself. So we can either get on board and do what we need to do, or we will just become extinct. This is Darwinism, evolution, so we can have temper tantrums and demand that restrictions be lifted because it is our inalienable right or some crap like that, and we will just be wiped off the face of the earth.”

Provocative opinions just happen to be the calling card for Ambrose, a resident of East Falls who left an indelible impression when he appeared at Big Blue Marble Bookstore in West Mt. Airy and read from his 2018 novel, “State of the Nation,” a virtual epiphany to courage. Ambrose, who also has a new novel (untitled for now, but “I'm looking for ideas for a title from the public and hold a contest. You know, the same way MGM ran a contest to change Lucille LeSuer to Joan Crawford”), has degrees from Penn, Temple and St. Joseph’s Universities and writes with the power of a jackhammer. In some ways his writing reminds me of James Baldwin in “Notes of a Native Son,” an explosion of a book that has left emotional scars still tender 60 years after the first reading.

A finalist last year for the Lambda Literary Award, the most prestigious award in the U.S. for books which “celebrate or explore LGBTQ themes,” Ambrose's new novel is about domestic abuse in same sex relationships and how childhood trauma influences our worldview.

“There is a character in the book who doesn’t realize he is a victim of domestic abuse because he believes that only women can be victims.,” said Ambrose. “There is also the story of a child with Prader Willi Syndrome (a genetic disorder that often leads to obesity) who endures the abuse unintentionally inflicted by an overprotective parent. Some of the strategies she uses to protect her child do more harm than good. It sounds like a downer; right? But there is lots of humor and use of gay urban lexicon that makes it an enjoyable read. I might even say it has elements of a trashy beach read.”

Ambrose's new book argues that contemporary media “often obscure truth in favor of a compelling headline, especially when the story involves racial disparity. Missing white women are often beautiful aspiring models, while missing black women are rarely even noted. Murdered black men are always in the act of a crime. My book shows how far from the truth those headline labels can be. One of the characters is a working class mom trying to take care of her special-needs child and the desperate steps she takes to keep him safe. One of the ways she does that is by lying about her race.”

Ambrose, who prefers not to mention his age, grew up in West Chester, where he says he was the object of verbal abuse by both white and black kids. After college, he was a social worker providing services for people with developmental disabilities, who he says are “some of the most honest, loving, non-judgmental people you will ever know.”

When not writing, Ambrose now has a day job for “an oversight entity that ensures provision of behavioral health services for people who need it.” Is he optimistic or pessimistic or neither about what the future holds for ordinary Americans, particularly people of color?

“Our country is capable of doing great things, so I’m always hopeful, sometimes to the point of embarrassment. I remember when Trump first won, and he was sitting with Obama. He looked totally shocked and maybe a little scared. And so here’s the embarrassing thing. I thought maybe God is at work here; maybe God put him in this position, and Trump is going to realize what a great responsibility he has been granted.

“He is going to humble himself and do really great things. He is a man with zero political experience, and maybe that is what can change things: someone with a different perspective. So yeah, I was a fool. That is sort of like the slave saying his master beat him for his own good. My experience with this country, which encapsulates over 200 years of enslavement, should have taught me better. As Judge Judy says, if it walks like a duck and acts like a duck, it’s a duck.”

For more information, visit Len Lear can be reached at

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