“We reach for stories to be able to take risks.”
Emily Raboteau, author of Searching for Zion: The Quest for Home in the African Diaspora (Atlantic Monthly Press), joins the Virtual Memories Show to show to talk about the many notions of “home” for black people. Along the way, we talk about the many notions of what constitutes a black person. As Ms. Raboteau discovered in the travels chronicled in her book — encompassing Israel, Jamaica, Ethiopia, Ghana and America’s deep south — there are a lot of ideas about who’s black and what blackness means.
“As my husband told me, ‘You can’t valorize the oppressed just because they were oppressed. It doesn’t make them saintly; more often than not, it makes them want to step on someone else to elevate themselves.’”
We also talk about churchgoing in New York City, what it’s like to travel to Antarctica, why the story of Exodus is so pivotal in the black American experience, why Jewish book reviewers thought she was pulling a bait-and-switch, why she chose to explore her black roots instead of her white ones for this book, what motherhood means, and what it was like to give a talk about faith on behalf of Bobby McFerrin.
About our Guest
Emily Raboteau is the author of a novel, The Professor’s Daughter (Henry Holt, Picador), and a work of creative nonfiction, Searching for Zion: The Quest for Home in the African Diaspora (Grove/Atlantic), named one of the “Best Books of 2013” by The Huffington Post and the grand prize winner of the New York Book Festival. She recently visited Antarctica and Cuba to research her next novel, Endurance, about a shipbuilder and his autistic son. Her fiction and essays have been widely published and anthologized in Best American Short Stories, Best American Non-required Reading, Tin House, The Oxford American, The Guardian, Guernica, The Believer and elsewhere. Honors include a Pushcart Prize, The Chicago Tribune’s Nelson Algren Award, and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York Foundation for the Arts, the Christopher Isherwood Foundation and the Howard Foundation. An avid world traveler, she resides in New York City and teaches creative writing in Harlem at City College, once known as “the poor man’s Harvard.”
Credits: This episode’s music is Promised Land by Johnnie Allan. The conversation was recorded at the home of a friend of Emily’s on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H4n recorder. The intro and outro were recorded at home on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Garage Band. Photo of Emily Raboteau by me.