Telegraph Avenue (novel)

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Telegraph Avenue
Telegraph Avenue Novel Cover.jpg
First edition cover
AuthorMichael Chabon
CountryUnited States
GenreLiterary fiction
Publication date
September 11, 2012
Media typePrint (Hardcover)

Telegraph Avenue is a novel by Michael Chabon, published on September 11, 2012. An extensive excerpt from the enhanced e-book edition was released online on July 25, 2012.[1] The novel's setting is North Oakland and Berkeley, California. The title refers to Telegraph Avenue, which runs through both cities.


Set in 2004, Archy Stallings, who is black, and Nat Jaffe, who is Jewish, are proprietors of Brokeland Records, a record shop located in north Oakland for twelve years. Their used vinyl business is threatened by ex-NFL superstar Gibson Goode's planned construction of his second Dogpile Thang megastore two blocks away. They feel betrayed because their local city councilman, Chandler Flowers, has switched sides, and now supports Dogpile.

A subplot concerns their wives, Gwen Shanks and Aviva Roth-Jaffe, who are partners in Berkeley Birth Partners, a midwifery business. A home birth goes wrong, the mother is rushed to the hospital, and the attending physician, after taking care of the mother, insults Gwen in a racially tinged manner. She blows up, and the doctor has the hospital start procedures to drop Gwen and Aviva's hospital privileges.

Another storyline concerns Luther Stallings, Archy's father, an actor in blaxploitation films in the 70s. He was never a part of Archy's life, and Archy wants nothing to do with him. Luther has been in and out of jail and on and off drugs since his acting career ended, has been clean for over a year, and he keeps himself trim. He is involved with his former co-star Valetta Moore.

Luther had been best friends with Chandler in the old days. Their friendship came to an end, after Luther abetted Chandler in the murder of a drug dealer. Luther is trying to exploit his knowledge in order to finance the making of a film.

Another storyline concerns Julius Jaffe, Nat and Aviva's 14-year-old son, and his new best buddy, Titus Joyner, who has shown up from Texas after his grandmother died. Titus, it turns out, is Archy's long lost son. His arrival is the last straw in Gwen's relationship with Archy.

Setting up a gig for a fundraiser for an Illinois politician, Barack Obama, running for U.S. Senate, Archy learns of the death of Cochise Jones, Archy's spiritual father, and Archy fills in. Obama is impressed with the performance, and tells Gwen he admires Archy's dedication to doing what he loves. Gwen takes those words to heart, and resolves to stand up for herself. The first stand she takes is to walk out on Archy.

The funeral for Jones is held in the store. Plans are made, people get drunk, and the stage is set for shaking up everyone's future.

Music referenced in the novel[edit]

  • Page 3: Electric Byrd (Blue Note, 1970) by Donald Byrd
  • Page 4: Wa-Tu-Wa-Zui (Prestige, 1971) by Charles Kynard
  • Page 4: Fingers (CTI, 1972) by Airto Moreira
  • Page 7: After Dark (RSO, 1980) by Andy Gibb
  • Page 9: Kulu Sé Mama (Impulse!, 1967) by John Coltrane
  • Page 9: On the Corner (Columbia, 1972) by Miles Davis
  • Page 31: Jimmy Smith Live in Israel (Isradisc, 1973) by Jimmy Smith
  • Page 34: Stan Getz and J.J. Johnson at the Opera House (Verve, 1957) by Stan Getz and J.J. Johnson
  • Page 41: The Soul Vibrations of Man (Saturn Research, 1976) by Sun Ra
  • Page 86: Innervisions (Motown, 1973) by Stevie Wonder
  • Page 86: Point of Know Return (Kirshner, 1977) by Kansas
  • Page 87: Brain Salad Surgery (Manticore, 1973) by Emerson Lake & Palmer
  • Page 90: Close to the Edge (Atlantic, 1972) by Yes
  • Page 110: “Be Thankful for What You Got” (Roxbury, 1973) by William DeVaughn
  • Page 157: “Funky Drummer” (King, 1970) by James Brown
  • Page 194: In a Silent Way (Columbia, 1969) by Miles Davis
  • Page 226: “Midnight Theme” (Fraternity, 1975) by Manzel
  • Page 273: Melting Pot (Stax, 1971) by Booker T. & the MG’s
  • Page 274: “Live on Stage” (Breakout, 1980) by Roxanne Shanté
  • Page 370: “It’s Too Late” (Ode Records, 1971) by Carole King
  • Page 414: “A Love Supreme” (Impulse, 1965) by John Coltrane[2]


As part of the book's marketing, HarperCollins created a real-world Brokeland Records as a pop-up store. To coincide with the book launch, an independent Oakland bookstore was, for one week, September 7–14, 2012, made over into a used jazz record store, using stock from an independent dealer. In addition to the new signage and stock, "Brokeland Records" bags and other paraphernalia were provided.[3] [4][5]


In the end, Chabon's novel suggests, what has the power to fill the void inside us isn't artifacts, but paternity.

In "Telegraph Avenue," Michael Chabon's characters join with the giddy excess and unlikely rigor of his prose to mount a sort of meta-argument that we might bridge racial distance using the skills found in our bigger-hearted novelists ....

— Matt Feeney, The New Yorker[7]

But despite Chabon's dazzling brilliance as a stylist, huge sections of "Telegraph Avenue" read like they've been written by a man being paid by the word who has a balloon mortgage due.


  1. ^ "Telegraph Avenue".
  2. ^ Every (Real) Record From Telegraph Avenue : essay by Forrest Wickman
  3. ^ Barbara Chai (2012-08-12). "A Record Store Pops Up, Imitating Plot of a Book". The Wall Street Journal.
  4. ^ Mihir Zaveri (2012-09-12). "Michael Chabon's 'Telegraph Avenue' novel debuts at Oakland bookstore". Oakland North. Retrieved 2014-11-25.
  5. ^ Matt Werner (2012-09-14). "Michael Chabon's Real and Imagined Storefronts". Diesel Bookstore. Retrieved 2014-11-25.
  6. ^ Egan, Jennifer (2012-09-09). "Lost Tracks". The New York Times. p. BR1.
  7. ^ Feeney, Matt (2012-09-26). "Michael Chabon's Oakland". The New Yorker.
  8. ^ Charles, Ron (2012-09-04). "'Telegraph Avenue' by Michael Chabon: A tribute to vintage vinyl". The Washington Post.