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Safe Colors is a novel that tells the story of a biracial boy who grows up in Northern Appalachia and moves as a young adult to New York City. One of the driving forces in his life is the desire to fit in as a person of color in a white society. Further complicating matters is a childhood spent in a difficult family situation. The boy's Polish American father is a frustrated artist who drinks too much, while his Chinese immigrant mother works outside the home, away from the father and children. Over the years, the family shrinks and splits, but the surviving members eventually come back together to rally around their ailing mother.

About the Author

Thaddeus Rutkowski grew up in central Pennsylvania and is a graduate of Cornell University and the Johns Hopkins University. He is the author of seven previous books of prose and poetry. His novel Haywire won the Asian American Writers’ Workshop’s members’ choice award, and his memoir Guess and Check won an Electronic Literature award for multicultural fiction. He teaches at Medgar Evers
College and received a fiction writing fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts. He has been a resident writer at Yaddo, MacDowell and other colonies, and has been a sponsored reader in Berlin, Hong Kong and Singapore. He lives with his wife in Manhattan.

“I like literature that probes a question deeply without necessarily resolving it. Safe Colors by Thaddeus Rutkowski invites readers to step inside its silences and gaps that yawn wide like doorways and to try to slide the puzzle pieces or balance two ends of an equation that never quite reconcile. It feels as though this child is waiting to be seen accurately by others at least as much as he is actively trying to understand himself.”

—Tucker Lieberman, The Identity Current


“The title Safe Colors comes from a story by the same name from the first section and refers to the bright-colored clothing one should wear in the woods during hunting season. It is a metaphor for safety, which indeed
may be the overriding theme in this charming collection, as the narrator navigates the daily roadblocks life has in store.”—Charles Rammelkamp, The Hopkins Review

“Rutkowski perfectly captures the loneliness and isolation of a nowhere man lost in a nowhere land, searching for that elusive “somewhere,” in which he can finally be someone—only to discover the answers everywhere and nowhere all at once.” —Christina Chiu, author of Beauty


“The episodes that make up Safe Colors are small, in the way that a scalpel is small—cutting away at everything we think we know about youth, family, and aging to reveal the mysterious, uncanny core connecting one life to another.” —Pedro Ponce, author of The Devil and the Dairy Princess


“Miles Davis told his musicians, “Don’t play what’s there, play what’s not there.” Of this technique, poet/novelist Thaddeus Rutkowski is a master; his latest book, Safe Colors: A Novel in Short Fictions, is filled with what’s not there. We get suggestions, not assertions, approaches, not arrivals. The effect is uncanny, and apt.” 

—Tim Tomlinson, author of This Is Not Happening to You

Safe Colors by Thaddeus Rutkowski is presented in such a fashion that it is reminiscent of a yard master placing freight cars in place to develop a consist of similar yet not similar cars. Such is what Rutkowski has accomplished in this new book. He has coupled stories together in vignettes that bring the reader on a journey from rural to urban America and back again. His conversational style of writing endears us to each of his
characters. —G. Emil Reutter, North of Oxford

With Safe Colors, we revisit the hero's childhood in Nowhere USA and his journey to Somewhere. Everything you loved about Rutkowski before is still there: the stony-faced comic thread that winds its way through his work and his ability to write so little and to say so much, mostly because of the wide
gaps in his intensely relatable prose.—Gila Green

New Meridian Arts

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