Archive for May, 2012

24 May, 2012

Ted Conover: Free Behind Bars

I’m over at the Huffington Post, talking to Ted Conover (Routes of Man, Coyotes, Newjack etc.). You can read the full interview here. Below, a taste:

RF: While researching Rolling Nowhere, you jumped the freight trains, going from being distrusted and robbed by the hoboes you were writing about to making a place for yourself in their lives. In Coyotes, you had yourself smuggled across the Mexican/American border and worked on a ranch to experience life as an undocumented worker. In Newjack, you learned what it was like to be part of a mostly white corps of guards simultaneously in charge and in fear of a mostly black prison population. You cross the line between anthropologist/observer and active creator of narrative. How do you reconcile the tension between being an investigative journalist, a compassionate humanist and an ordinary guy with an exit-route built into the adventure?

TC: The tensions are part of what makes it interesting, and they don’t always get reconciled. My first-person character is very important to the story — I want readers to experience vicariously what I felt, whether it’s doing push-ups as punishment in the training academy, frisking a prisoner outside the mess hall or driving home on the day I got punched in the head. I studied anthropology and I practice ethnography; they inform much of my writing. But they take a back seat to the storytelling, to communicating with my readers. I try to be evenhanded in my descriptions — but participation lends a subjectivity that I think is important, that “keeps it real.”

9 May, 2012

Tayari Jones

I’m over at the Huffington Post with a Q&A with author Tayari Jones, whose third novel, Silver Sparrow, just came out.

Here’s a snippet (below). You can read the full interview here.

RF: In 2010 you joined the boycott of Arizona, in protest against SB1070 which penalizes non-Whites. In your letter you wrote, “That people should be legally required to show proof of citizenship is similar to the antebellum mandate that black people produce “free papers” proving themselves not to be slaves.” Recently, after the Trayvon Martin murder, you were on NPR speaking to the fact that young Black girls watch as “our mothers groom our brothers to live in a world that feared them…We, too, were in training, learning to protect the men we loved.” Many writers avoid the activist role despite having one of the best tools – words – at their disposal. What makes you different? What gives you the courage to raise your voice against social injustice?

TJ: I think all artists are activists, whether they know it or not. The ones who think they are avoiding it, are activists for the status quo. I don’t mind expressing my opinions and speaking out against injustice. I would be doing this even if I wasn’t a writer. I grew up in a household that believed in social justice. I have always understood myself as having an obligation to stand on the side of the silenced, the oppressed, and the mistreated. I never made a decision. It was how I was brought up. It’s what I believe. I don’t think it takes courage to stand up. If I fear anything, I fear being silent, because I fear the consequences of that silence.

The Books:

The Books:

On Sal Mal Lane

In the tradition of In the Time of the Butterflies and The Kite Runner, a tender, evocative novel about the years leading up to the Sri Lankan civil war.

A Disobedient Girl

A Disobedient Girl is a compelling map of womanhood, its desires and loyalties, set against the backdrop of beautiful, politically turbulent, Sri Lanka.


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