Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Jonathan Odell

Jonathan Odell is the author of the acclaimed novel The View from Delphi, which deals with the struggle for equality in pre-civil rights Mississippi, his home state. His new novel, The Healing (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday), explores the subversive role that story plays in the healing of an oppressed people.

From Odell's Q & A at the Red Room Library:

Both of your novels investigate the theme of remembering. Why is this important to you?

I used to think that remembering was something that was unchangeable, that you had certain memories and that you carried those memories with you, but through some of the therapy work that I’ve done, I’ve come to believe that how we remember is more important that what we remember. We have choice over how we remember things and most of our lives are dictated by how we see the past. We have a moral responsibility to see the past as truthfully as we can. Sometimes that means changing our minds. Sometimes that means forgiveness. Sometimes that means learning other people’s stories rather than mine, and letting that story contradict my story. So, as a white man when I went back to Mississippi, and I started talking to all these black people who were outside my little white bubble that I lived in as I grew up, and started listening to their stories, I started remembering my own past differently. It was like “Oh, that’s who you were and that’s who I was. I was a little spoiled white supremacist kid and that’s why you reacted the way you did, and that was why you couldn’t stick up for yourselves." Remembering is so powerful. We don’t know who we are, what we’re doing, where we’re going in our lives, until we remember accurately who we were. I think Faulkner said it: “ The past is not dead. It’s not even past” The past isn’t dead, it’s still forming, and we work on it day by day. Memories are very malleable, and we are responsible as adults to take control of our memories, not to just take things down as law from our parents or history books or people we admire. Even though we admire them, they lie to us because they have a different interpretation.

Coming out of the 1960s South, I was raised where Martin Luther King, Jr. was called a communist, where “our black people are happy, it’s the outside ones who are agitators,' where white people were all good-natured, and all those Klan people were just exceptions to the rule. In doing this re-remembering, it’s painful because sometimes you have to go back and emotionally confront the people you love the most because it wasn’t just the evil people telling you this, it was my pastor at church, my parents. The racism that I learned, that was passed to me was toxic, and I...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Jonathan Odell's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Healing.

--Marshal Zeringue