Tell us about the moment [last fall] when you were a guest on Late Night with Seth Meyers, and the crowd applauded your mention of W.E.B. DuBois, the sociologist who wrote “The Talented Tenth.”
A lot of times I have to explain the reference to people. I think he’s not as well-known as I feel he needs to be. I was happy that people were acknowledging his role. He’s a towering figure in American history. He was not just an African American figure, but really, he’s such an important thinker.
How did your University of Wisconsin experience influence this novel?
I knew I needed to go somewhere and focus, because I have a lot of other responsibilities here in New Orleans. I didn’t have much of [the book] written until I got there, beyond the first draft. If you really want to write a book, you’re going to have to make some changes if you want it to actually happen. I just really wanted to have a chance to immerse myself in writing.
What are you hearing from readers of The Talented Ribkins?
It’s been really gratifying that so many people seem to connect with what I was trying to accomplish with it, because there is a lot going on in the book. It talks about the family dynamic a lot, which I think you can certainly extend to how people interact with each other when they do have a connection. We are one people, in a sense.What do you hope readers will take away from the novel’s themes of politics, history, freedom, and movement?
I talk about self-love a lot and learning to love yourself — also, in the face of all these obstacles, the value of just trying to do the best that you can with what you’ve been given. What I personally find so heroic about [Johnny the Great, a central character in the book who has a gift for making maps of places he’s never seen] is that he keeps trying. I think that’s really important, trying to find new paths — not getting stuck on one way of seeing things, either, but not being afraid to keep trying to make things better.
Published in the Spring 2018 issue of OnWisconsin Magazine