Transcript: Esi Edugyan: Freedom Before and After | Jul 05, 2019

Nam sits in the studio. She's in her early forties, with shoulder length curly brown hair. She's wearing glasses and a red blazer over a black shirt.

A caption on screen reads "Freedom, before and after."

Nam says STORIES OF SLAVERY
IN FICTION USUALLY END
WITH FREEDOM AS A GOAL.
IN ESI EDUGYAN'S LATEST BOOK,
THE GILLER PRIZE-WINNING NOVEL
WASHINGTON BLACK,
FREEDOM IS JUST THE BEGINNING.

A picture of the book appears briefly on screen. The cover is off-white, with the title in red and black, and a drawing of an octopus.

Nam continues IT'S A BREATH-TAKING BOOK,
THAT CAPTURES THE SWEEP
OF HISTORY AND THE COMPLEXITY
OF THE ESSENTIAL QUESTION,
WHAT DOES IT
MEAN TO REALLY BE FREE?
AND WE'RE PLEASED TO WELCOME
ESI EDUGYAN TO OUR STUDIO
FOR MORE. HI.

Esi is in her forties, with long, curly brown hair. She's wearing a white shirt and a silver pendant necklace.

Esi says HI.

Nam says SO NICE TO HAVE YOU HEAR.

Esi says PLEASED TO BE HERE.

Nam says READING THIS BOOK, OR EVEN
THE BOOKS THAT I'VE READ
IN THE PAST ABOUT SLAVERY,
THEY DON'T USUALLY TURN INTO
AN ADVENTURE STORY,
BUT TO ME,
WASHINGTON BLACK
KIND OF FELT LIKE ONE. WHY?

The caption changes to "Esi Edugyan. Author, 'Washington black.'"
Then, it changes again to "Flipping the narrative."

Esi says WELL, I GUESS WHEN I WAS
WRITING THE NOVEL AT THE ONSET,
IT HAD SORT OF
COME OUT OF DIFFERENT MATER...
LIKE, VERY KIND OF, UM...
YOU KNOW, MULTI-STORIED, WILD...
SOURCE MATERIAL,
AND SO, THAT WAS
PROBABLY IN MY MIND.
BUT I ALSO THINK
OF IT AS BEING, LIKE,
A POST-SLAVERY NARRATIVE,
IN THAT IT'S
REALLY A BOOK ABOUT...
LESS ABOUT HIS TIME IN BONDAGE
AND MORE ABOUT HIS GOING OUT,
FIRST AS A RUNAWAY,
BUT EVENTUALLY AS A FREED MAN
INTO THE WORLD,
AND YOU KNOW,
WHAT WOULD THAT LOOK LIKE?
HIM WANTING TO CONSTRUCT
A LIFE FOR HIMSELF?
UM, YOU KNOW,
WHAT FORMS CAN IT TAKE?
WHERE WILL HE FEEL MOST AT HOME?
SO, THOSE WERE THE QUESTIONS
THAT WERE DRIVING THIS STORY
AND THEN THERE'S QUITE A BIT OF
WHIMSY IN THAT, TOO.

Nam says AND ALSO, PROBABLY,
WHAT IT MEANS TO BE FREE, RIGHT?
THAT WAS MY
INTERPRETATION, AS WELL.

Esi says YEAH, IS THAT
HE'S SOMEBODY WHO...
NOT ONLY WHAT
IT MEANS TO BE FREE,
BUT, UH, HOW CAN I GET MY
FOOTHOLD IN THE WORLD,
AND WHERE CAN I BEST
LIVE MY LIFE AS A MAN
WHO WAS A SLAVE
AND WHO'S LOOKING, UH,
FOR A BETTER PLACE,
AND SO, THE NOVEL MOVES THROUGH
SO MANY DIFFERENT LANDSCAPES.
YOU KNOW, IT'S IN THE ARCTIC,
AND IT'S IN ENGLAND,
AND IT'S IN VIRGINIA, ETC. ETC.
AND WASHINGTON IS REALLY
KIND OF SEARCHING FOR
HIS PLACE IN THE WORLD
AND DISCOVERING AT
EVERY TURN THAT HE DOESN'T...
HE DOESN'T FEEL COMFORTABLE
OR THAT HE FEELS LIKE HE'S BEING
REJECTED BY A CERTAIN PLACE,
AND SO HE'S CONSTANTLY MOVING.
BUT WHAT HE'S LOOKING
FOR IS HIS FREEDOM, AND...
BUT IT'S LIKE HE DOESN'T QUITE
UNDERSTAND WHAT FORM
IT SHOULD TAKE,
AND SO,
HE'S SEARCHING FOR SOMETHING
THAT'S, UH...
I MEAN, IT'S AN ABSTRACTION
IN A SENSE.
IT'S... IT'S INTANGIBLE.
AND SO HE DOESN'T EVEN
REALLY QUITE KNOW WHAT
HE'S LOOKING FOR BUT HE'S
MOVING AND HE'S SEARCHING.

Nam says AND ALL THE PLACES THAT HE GOES
IT FEELS LIKE A SENSE OF WHIMSY.
LIKE, HE'S GOING
FROM PLACE TO PLACE.
WOULD IT HAVE WORKED IF HE HAD
JUST STAYED IN ONE PLACE?

Esi says I THINK IT WOULD HAVE BEEN
A VERY DIFFERENT STORY.
AND IN FACT,
EARLIER DRAFTS DID HAVE HIM
LEAVING THE PLANTATION AND THEN
JUST STAYING IN ENGLAND,
AND IT REALLY FELT LIKE THE BOOK
WANTED TO BE SOMETHING ELSE.
IT WANTED TO BE ABOUT
HIM REALLY NOT BEING
ABLE TO FIND A PLACE
WHERE HE FEELS AT HOME.
UM, AND SO...
AND ALSO THE SENSE
OF ADVENTURE
THE SENSE OF SLIGHTLY...
SLIGHTLY LARGER
THAN LIFE KIND OF THING,
TONE TO THE BOOK,
I THINK IT REALLY SPEAKS TO
HOW HE WOULD FEEL TO JUST
GO OUT INTO THE REGULAR WORLD
AS SOMEBODY WHO WAS
RECENTLY FREED.
LIKE, EVERYTHING IS HEIGHTENED.
THERE'S A SENSE OF...
OF SLIGHT SURREALNESS
TO EVERY EXPERIENCE.
AND BY ACTUALLY KIND OF FORCING
THAT TONE A BIT IN THE BOOK,
THE READER COMES TO
FEEL THIS ALONGSIDE HIM,
THAT THERE'S A REAL, UM,
STRANGENESS AND WONDER TO LIFE,
AND TO BEING
OUT IN THE WORLD.
AND SO I REALLY WANTED TO
ENGENDER THAT SAME SENSE OF
WONDER IN THE READER
THAT HE WOULD FEEL
JUST AS A FREE MAN GOING
OUT INTO THE WORLD.

Nam says WELL, THE BOOK STARTS OUT ON
A BARBADOS PLANTATION CALLED
FAITH, WHERE, YOU KNOW,
THE TREATMENT OF SLAVES
IS SO BRUTAL THAT
MANY COMMIT SUICIDE
AS A MEANS OF ESCAPE.
UH, WAS COMMITTING SUICIDE
COMMON DURING SLAVERY?

Esi says YEAH, SO THAT FACT
CAME OUT OF, UM...
CAME OUT OF MY READING,
UM, THAT I WAS READING
ONE BOOK IN PARTICULAR,
WHICH WAS A WOMAN EXPLORING
HER FAMILY'S HISTORY,
IN BARBADOS, 'CAUSE HER... ONE OF
HER GREAT, GREAT,
GREAT, GREAT FORBEARERS
HAD GONE
AND ESTABLISHED A PLANTATION
IN BARBADOS.
AND THERE WAS A TIME WHERE,
THE SLAVES ON THAT PLANTATION
HAD, HAD...
SOME OF THEM, YOU KNOW,
CAME FROM CERTAIN TRIBES
IN WESTERN AFRICA WHO HAD
THE BELIEF THAT YOU WOULD
BE REINCARNATED IN YOUR
HOMELAND IF YOU KILLED YOURSELF,
AND SO THAT WAS SOMETHING
THAT STARTED TO BECOME
A BIT MORE COMMON, UNTIL,
OF COURSE,
IT GETS VERY BRUTALLY SHUT DOWN.

Nam says EARLY IN THE BOOK,
THE MAIN CHARACTER,
WHO'S NICKNAMED "WASH,"
HIS FULL NAME
IS GEORGE WASHINGTON BLACK, UM,
HE'S, UH, TAKEN FROM FIELD WORK
TO ASSIST TITCH,
WHO'S THE BROTHER OF THE
PLANTATION OWNER.
UM, HOW DID SLAVES...
'CAUSE I NOTICED A SHIFT OF
HOW WASHINGTON WAS TREATED.
UM, HOW DID FIELDS...
HOW DID, UH, SLAVES IN THE FIELD
INTERACT WITH SLAVES
WHO WORKED IN THE HOUSES
OF THE PLANTATION OWNERS?

Esi says YEAH, SO, IT SEEMED
TO BE A VERY...
THAT THERE WASN'T
A LOT OF INTERACTION BETWEEN
THE HOUSE SLAVES AND
THE FIELD SLAVES.
YOU KNOW, THERE WAS
REALLY A KIND OF DEMARCATION
BETWEEN THESE TWO REALITIES.
SO IF YOU WERE A FIELD SLAVE
YOU WERE, OBVIOUSLY YOU WERE OUT
IN THE SUN SO YOU WERE, YOU WERE
DARKER SKINNED. YOU WERE JUST
SORT OF PHYSICALLY EVEN LOOKED
VERY DIFFERENT FROM SOMEBODY IN
THE HOUSE WHO WOULD BE SORT OF
A LIGHT SKINNED SLAVE.
WHO WOULD HAVE BEEN VERY, I
GUESS WORKING WITHIN THE SYSTEM
OF HAVING TO INTERACT WITH, MORE
CLOSELY WITH
THE PLANTATION OWNERS AND HIS
FAMILY
AND YOU KNOW THE WORKINGS OF THE
HOUSE.
I THINK THERE WASN'T, SORT OF,
A TON OF COMMUNICATION
BETWEEN THE TWO.

Nam says WAS THERE A LITTLE BIT,
LIKE, IN THE BOOK?
'CAUSE I SENSE THERE'S A LITTLE
BIT OF TENSION BETWEEN THE TWO.

Esi says OH, ABSOLUTELY. I THINK THAT
HOUSE SLAVES WOULD HAVE
HAD A SENSE OF SUPERIORITY, UM,
YOU KNOW, OVER THE FIELD SLAVES,
WHO THEY, YOU KNOW,
THEY WOULD HAVE SEEN
THEMSELVES AS BEING,
I GUESS, A MUCH MORE SORT OF
REFINED SORT OF SLAVE.

Nam says AND THEN THE SLAVES
IN THE FIELD, I GUESS,
WOULD HAVE A BIT OF RESENTMENT
TO THE SLAVES IN THE HOUSE?

Esi says YEAH, AND IN THE NOVEL
WASHINGTON HAS THE FEELING OF,
YOU KNOW, OF GAIUS AS BEING
THIS SORT OF PROXY MASTER
JUST BECAUSE HE,
YOU KNOW, HE SORT OF FEELS
LIKE HE HAS THE BEARING
OF THE MASTER AND OTHER
PEOPLE IN THE HOUSE.
AND SO THERE REALLY IS A...
A PSYCHOL... LIKE, JUST A TENSION
BETWEEN THOSE TWO GROUPS.

Nam says AND EVEN... I DON'T WANT TO GIVE
AWAY TOO MUCH OF THE BOOK,
BUT THERE'S ALSO,
THERE'S THIS KIND OF EMPTINESS
WHEN IT COMES TO FAMILIES.
YOU KNOW, THERE'S A LOT OF
PEOPLE, OR... YOU KNOW,
THERE'S SECRETS ABOUT
WHO'S RELATED TO WHOM,
I GUESS BECAUSE THEY'RE TRYING
TO KEEP THEIR FAMILY SAFE.
WHAT WAS THE IMPACT
OF SLAVERY ON FAMILIES
OR THE ABILITY TO EVEN FEEL
AS THOUGH YOU COULD HAVE ONE?

Esi says I THINK SO MANY FAMILIES
WERE BROKEN UP, UM...
YOU KNOW, PEOPLE WOULD BE SOLD
AWAY FROM CERTAIN PLANTATIONS.
SO, THAT WHOLE
FAMILY UNIT WAS NOT, UM,
WAS NOT A STABLE ONE,
AND IF A FEMALE SLAVE
DID MANAGE TO PRODUCE A CHILD...
BECAUSE IN BARBADOS ESPECIALLY...
THE CONDITIONS ON
THE PLANTATIONS WERE SO POOR
AND THE FIELD SLAVES
WERE TREATED SO SEVERELY
AND MOST OF THE SLAVES
IN THE FIELDS WERE WOMEN,
WE DON'T THINK ABOUT THIS,
BUT A LOT OF FEMALE LABOURERS,
THAT IT BECAME
DIFFICULT TO, YOU KNOW,
CARRY A PREGNANCY TO TERM.
AND SO, YOU KNOW,
IF YOU ACTUALLY DID MANAGE TO
HAVE A CHILD,
THERE WAS
THE FEELING THAT THIS CHILD
WOULD MOST CERTAINLY BE,
BE TAKEN AWAY.
AND SO, THE FAMILY UNIT
WAS JUST COMPLETELY DESTROYED.

Nam says AND WASH HAS, YOU KNOW, AGAIN,
I'M TRYING NOT TO GIVE AWAY
TOO MUCH OF THE BOOK.
HE FINALLY ESCAPES SLAVERY
EARLY ON IN THE BOOK WITH,
I GUESS, ONE IDEA OF WHAT
FREEDOM MEANS,
BUT WHAT DOES FREEDOM ACTUALLY
END UP LOOKING LIKE
FOR WASHINGTON?

The caption changes to "The nature of freedom."

Esi says WASHINGTON IS
VERY EARLY IN THE BOOK,
HE'S TAKEN, UM, INTO THE CARE
OF A WOMAN CALLED BIG KIT,
WHO IS WHAT'S
CALLED A SALTWATER,
OR WHAT THEY WOULD
HAVE CALLED A SALTWATER.
WHICH IS A SLAVE THAT, YOU KNOW,
WAS BORN IN AFRICA AND THEN
TRANSPORTED ACROSS THE OCEAN.
AS OPPOSED TO A SLAVE
WHO'S BORN ON THE PLANTATION,
WHICH IS WHAT WASHINGTON IS.
AND SO, SHE HAS SOME IDEA OR
SOME NOTION OF WHAT IT MEANT
TO BE FREE AND SO WHEN SHE...
YOU KNOW, WHEN HE SAYS,
"WHAT IS FREEDOM?" AND,
SHE TELLS HIM WHAT THIS IS,
HE REALLY HOLDS THIS DEARLY.
AND WHAT SHE TELLS HIM
FREEDOM IS...
YOU KNOW, IT'S A VERY,
VERY, VERY BASIC IDEA
OF WHAT FREEDOM CAN BE.
LIKE, VERY RUDIMENTARY,
JUST, YOU KNOW, THINGS LIKE, UM,
"FREEDOM IS
THE FREEDOM NOT TO WORK."
AND IT'S THE FREEDOM
NOT TO SPEAK IF YOU DON'T...
YOU KNOW, NOT TO ANSWER
A QUESTION IF YOU DON'T LIKE
HOW THE QUESTION WAS POSED OR
WHAT THE QUESTION IS.

Nam says SO, TO HAVE
AUTONOMY OVER SELF?

Esi says YEAH. BUT IT'S SAID
IN A VERY BASIC WAY.
IT'S NOT LIKE TO HAVE AUTONOMY
OVER YOUR BODY
AND YOUR THOUGHTS, IT'S JUST,
YOU KNOW, IT'S UM...
YOU KNOW, "IF YOU DON'T WANT
TO DRINK THAT GLASS OF WATER,
DON'T DRINK IT,"
AND ALSO FREEDOM FROM HUMAN
ENTANGLEMENTS, YOU KNOW.
JUST DON'T HAVE ANY
VERY CLOSE RELATIONSHIPS
AND YOU'LL BE FINE.
SO... THERE'S A LOT
THAT HE TAKES AWAY
FROM WHAT SHE'S TRYING TO IMPART
THAT IT'S MUCH TOO...
TOO BASIC.
AND SO, AS HE GOES OUT INTO
THE WORLD AND HE TRIES TO LIVE
BY THE TENETS THAT SHE'S
KIND OF LAID OUT FOR HIM,
HE RECOGNIZES THAT FREEDOM IS
TRICKIER THAN WHAT SHE SAID.
IT'S, UM, IT'S MUCH MORE, UH...
EXPANSIVE, BUT IT'S ALSO
A MUCH MORE LIMITED THING.
HE REALIZES THAT AS A BLACK MAN,
AND AS A DISFIGURED MAN
GOING OUT INTO THE WORLD,
YOU KNOW, THERE ARE LIMITATIONS
TO THE FREEDOM
THAT HE CAN CLAIM FOR HIMSELF.

Nam says BUT THIS IS THE THING THAT
I FOUND REALLY INTERESTING,
HE'S ALREADY SOMEBODY
THAT STANDS OUT.
HE'S A BLACK MAN, UM,
HE'S ESCAPED BONDAGE,
AND THEN, YOU THE WRITER,
DECIDE TO, LIKE YOU SAID...
I WASN'T GOING TO MENTION
IT UNLESS YOU MENTIONED IT,
BUT THEN HE
GETS A DISFIGUREMENT,
SO HE EVEN STANDS OUT MORE.
WHY DID YOU ADD THAT
LAYER ONTO THIS PERSON
WHO'S ALREADY CARRYING SO MUCH?

Esi says YEAH, IT JUST SEEMED TO COME
ORGANICALLY OUT OF THE TEXT.
THIS IDEA THAT HE'S ESSENTIALLY
DISFIGURED
BY A SCIENTIFIC EXPERIMENT,
AND THAT SEEMED VERY SYMBOLIC.
THAT IT WOULD BE...
HELPING THIS MAN DO HIS, UM,
BUILD HIS CONTRAPTION
THAT THIS WOULD BE THE THING
THAT SORT OF MARKS HIM.

Nam says AND HE WAS HELPING TITCH,
THE MAN WHO HELPS HIM ESCAPE.

Esi says YEAH, THAT'S RIGHT.
HELPING HIM WITH HIS, YOU KNOW,
THIS IS WHAT ULTIMATELY ENDS UP
CAUSING THIS DISFIGUREMENT.
AND SO
IT GIVES HIM THIS EXTRA...
I GUESS THIS EXTRA LAYER
OF OTHERNESS AS HE GOES OUT
INTO THE WORLD.
AND YOU KNOW, THERE'S A SCENE
LATER IN THE BOOK,
WHERE HE'S SITTING AT A TAVERN
WITH A FRIEND,
AND YOU KNOW, THIS IS OBVIOUSLY
BLACK CLIENTELE IN THIS TAVERN,
BUT, AS HE'S SITTING THERE,
THESE TWO MEN COME UP
AND THEY'RE REALLY HARASSING HIM
OVER THIS DISFIGUREMENT.
AND SO THERE'S THE
SENSE THAT HE, YOU KNOW,
HE CAN'T BE AT EASE...

Nam says EVER.

Esi says EVER, RIGHT. EVEN AT THE PLACE
WHERE, YOU KNOW, HE WOULD FEEL
THAT HE WOULD BE MOST AT EASE.
THAT THIS IS, THIS IS A PLACE
WHERE HE CAN'T BE AT HOME.
HE CAN'T EVER FEEL YOU KNOW,
THAT HE'S PART
OF THE SOCIAL FABRIC.

Nam says AND AS I MENTIONED, TITCH,
THE PLANTATION MASTER'S BROTHER,
HELPS WASHINGTON ESCAPE
FAITH AFTER SOMETHING HAPPENS.
BUT IS IT FAIR
TO SAY THAT HE SAVES HIM?

Esi says UM, YOU KNOW, I THINK THAT'S A
GOOD QUESTION.
I THINK IT'S SOMETHING THAT,
UM...
I THINK HE DOES SAVE HIM,
I THINK HE MOST
DEFINITELY DOES SAVE HIM.
UM, YOU KNOW,
IF HE HADN'T TAKEN HIM AWAY,
WASHINGTON WOULD CERTAINLY
HAVE BEEN KILLED.
WHAT'S INTERESTING TO ME ARE
THE MOTIVATIONS FOR SAVING HIM.
WHY DOES HE TAKE HIM?
WOULD HE HAVE TAKEN HIM IF,
YOU KNOW,
IF WASHINGTON DIDN'T PROVE TO BE
SUCH A QUICK STUDY
WITH HIS DRAWING
AND ALSO WITH
HIS APTITUDE FOR SCIENCE.

Nam says SO HE HAS HIS OWN MOTIVES MAYBE
BEYOND BEING ALTRUISTIC

Esi says YEAH, BUT I THINK HE WOULD
PROBABLY ONLY SPEAK TO THE
ALTRUISTIC ONES, I THINK YOU
KNOW HE'S NOT EVEN REALLY
QUESTIONING HIS OTHER MOTIVES.

Nam says BECAUSE HE, WELL, I WAS ABOUT TO
SAY SOMETHING... ANYWAY,
IT'S REALLY HARD TO DO...
YOU KNOW, ANYWAY...
BUT YOU'VE SAID IN
OTHER INTERVIEWS THAT, UH,
AN EDITOR WHO LOOKED AT
EARLY PAGES OF THE BOOK
WORRIED THAT TITCH, UH,
TITCH'S ROLE
WOULD MAKE THE BOOK,
LIKE, A WHITE SAVIOUR STORY,
WHERE A WHITE PERSON SAVES
A BLACK INDIVIDUAL.
UM, HOW IMPORTANT WAS IT FOR
YOU TO QUESTION THAT TROPE?

Esi says OH, IT WAS HUGELY
IMPORTANT FOR ME,
AND I THINK THE EDITOR LOOKING
AT THE BOOK HAD ONLY KIND OF
SEEN MAYBE THE FIRST FIFTH
OR THE FIRST QUARTER
OF THE BOOK.
AND SO, YOU KNOW, IF YOU WERE TO
JUST READ THAT DEEPLY IN
YOU WOULDN'T KIND OF,
START SEE THE WAYS IN WHICH
TITCH IS A COMPLICATED MAN.
BUT I... YOU KNOW, WHEN I WAS
DOING RESEARCH,
I CAME ACROSS THIS STORY OF...
IT WAS IN AN ERIC FONER BOOK,
AND IT WAS ABOUT
AN ABOLITIONIST MEETING
IN NEW YORK, AND...
A QUAKER MEETING.
SO, IT WAS IN
A HOUSE OF FRIENDS,
AND THEY WERE
SITTING DOWN TO DISCUSS
SORT OF WHAT THEY COULD DO
TO END SLAVERY IN AMERICA
AND THE PLIGHT OF THE BLACK MAN.
AND WHAT WAS INTERESTING TO ME,
IS THAT,
YOU KNOW, THEY WERE VERY
INTENSELY DISCUSSING THIS,
BUT AT THAT MEETING WERE THREE...
THREE AFRICAN AMERICANS.
BUT THEY WERE MADE TO SIT SORT
OF ON PEWS, YOU KNOW,
AWAY FROM EVERYBODY ELSE.
AND THEY WEREN'T AT ALL
CONSULTED FOR THEIR OPINIONS
ON ANY OF THIS, AND SO...

Nam says THERE WAS NO COLLABORATION.

Esi says THERE WAS NO COLLABORATION

Nam says IT'S LIKE THEY WERE TALKING
ABOUT THEM WHILE
THEY WERE IN THE ROOM.

Esi says YEAH, EXACTLY,
AND YOU START TO WONDER, LIKE,
WHAT IS THE IMPULSE OF YOU
WANTING TO...
YOU KNOW, TO SAVE THE BLACK MAN?
YOU'RE NOT EVEN REALLY
SORT OF INVITING THESE PEOPLE
INTO YOUR...
INTO YOUR DISCUSSION.
AND WHO BETTER THAN THEY WOULD
BE ABLE TO, TO TALK ABOUT THIS?
SO, I JUST THOUGHT THE IRONY OF
THAT WAS REALLY INTERESTING
TO ME, AND I THINK IT'S THAT
KIND OF DICHOTOMY
THAT REALLY INFORMS TITCH'S
CHARACTER.

Nam says WANT TO PULL UP SOMETHING YOU
WROTE FOR A LECTURE SERIES
IN 2014, AND I WAS
WONDERING IF YOU COULD
JUST READ THIS FOR ME, PLEASE?

A quote appears on screen, under the title "Where, and what, is home." The quote reads "Home, for me, was not a birthright, but an invention, It seems to me when we speak of hone we are speaking of several things, often at once, muddled together into an uneasy stew. We say home and mean origins, we say home and mean belonging. These are two different things: where we come from, and where we are."
Quoted from Esi Edugyan, "Dreaming of elsewhere." 2014.

Nam says THANK YOU SO MUCH.
YOU AND WASH HAVE
SOMETHING IN COMMON.
YOU'VE BOTH
LIVED SO MANY PLACES.
WHAT ROLE DOES THE IDEA OF HOME
HAVE IN THE STORIES
THAT YOU WRITE?

The caption changes to "Homecoming."

Esi says I THINK IT...
IF I THINK OF ALL OF THE BOOKS,
IT SEEMS LIKE THAT'S THE CORE
IDEA SITTING AT THE HEART
OF ALL OF THEM IS SOMEBODY
SEARCHING FOR
THEIR PLACE IN THE WORLD,
AND WHERE THEY'RE GOING TO FEEL
MOST COMFORTABLE
AND MOST AT HOME.
AND THEN THEM RECOGNIZING
THAT THIS SORT OF, UM...
IDEAL PLACE
DOESN'T ACTUALLY EXIST,
AND THAT THE FEELING
OF BEING AT HOME,
IT'S SO COMPLICATED.
THAT THERE'S SO MANY THINGS THAT
CAN MAKE UP OUR CONCEPT OF HOME,
AND THIS IS... I MEAN,
IT SOUNDS SO, UM...
(SIGHING)
SO, KIND OF ALMOST
SORT OF FLIPPANT
TO PUT IT THIS WAY,
BUT YOU KNOW,
WE CAN FIND
OUR HOME IN OTHER PEOPLE,
IN THOSE RELATIONSHIPS THAT
WE FORM
WITH PEOPLE AROUND US,
AND OUR CONNECTION TO THEM.
THIS IS A HUGE PART, I THINK, OF
HOW WE BEGIN TO FEEL
AT HOME IN A PLACE,
IS THE SOCIETY
THAT WE BUILD FOR OURSELVES.
AND SO, YOU KNOW,
WHEN BIG KIT TELLS WASHINGTON...
(CLEARING THROAT)
THAT, UH... YOU KNOW,
FREEDOM IS FREEDOM
FROM HUMAN ENTANGLEMENTS,
THIS IS PROBABLY THE WORST
THING THAT SHE COULD SAY
TO SOMEBODY LIKE HIM,
WHO REALLY NEEDS...
WHAT HE'S MOST LACKING IN LIFE
ARE THESE CONNECTIONS.
BECAUSE, OBVIOUSLY,
FAMILIES WERE SO...
SO BROKEN UP,
SO DESTROYED BY SLAVERY
THAT THESE FUNDAMENTAL
CONNECTIONS THAT WE NEED TO MAKE
WITH OTHER HUMAN BEINGS, THESE...
THIS IS PART OF THE
PSYCHOLOGICAL WARFARE
OF SLAVERY IS
BREAKING UP THESE CONNECTIONS
THAT ARE SO ESSENTIAL TO OUR
FEELING OF BEING AT HOME.
AND SO,
WHAT HE MOST NEEDS IS
TO ESTABLISH THAT NETWORK.
AND HE KIND OF DOES FIND
THAT A LITTLE BIT
TOWARDS THE END OF THE BOOK
WITH TANNA.

Nam says I THOUGHT THAT WAS SUCH A...
I THOUGHT THAT WAS SUCH A
HEARTBREAKING THING TO SAY,
WHAT BIG KIT SAID,
FREE FROM HUMAN ENTANGLEMENTS,
'CAUSE THAT IS...
THEN WHAT IS LIFE
WITHOUT THOSE ENTANGLEMENTS?

Esi says YEAH, EXACTLY.

Nam says UM, WE'RE RUNNING OUT OF TIME
SO I JUST WANTED TO GET
SOME MORE QUESTIONS IN.
THE NARRATION IN ALL
OF YOUR BOOKS
HAS SUCH A DISTINCTIVE VOICE.
HALF-BLOOD BLUES
VERSUS
WASHINGTON BLACK,
FOR EXAMPLE.
WHAT DID YOU DO TO GET INTO
THE VOICE OF THESE CHARACTERS?

The caption changes to "The writing life."

Esi says YEAH, GETTING INTO THE VOICE
OF THESE CHARACTERS IS
SOMETHING THAT, UM...
CAN BE A LONG PROCESS.
SO, HOW
HALF-BLOOD BLUES
FOR INSTANCE,
THE VERY FIRST DRAFT
WAS JUST WRITTEN IN
A VERY PLAIN-SPOKEN,
STRAIGHTFORWARD STYLE.
YOU KNOW,
JUST COULD HAVE BEEN SET,
KIND OF, IN ANY TIME PERIOD.
JUST VERY, UM...
YOU KNOW, NOT SHOWY AT ALL,
AND I GAVE IT TO MY HUSBAND
WHO'S MY FIRST READER,
AND HE JUST SAID, "THIS IS
SO BORING AND SO BLAH."
(LAUGHING)
"YOU KNOW, WHY DON'T YOU TRY
AND PLAY WITH VOICE?"
WHICH IS ONE OF THE PRIVILEGES,
I THINK, OF WORKING WITH
FIRST PERSON IS THAT YOU CAN
REALLY CREATE THESE INFLECTIONS,
AND... UM...

Nam says BUT YOU MUST HAVE DONE A LOT
OF RESEARCH, BECAUSE, I MEAN,
THE SLANG, THE LINGO,
AND THEY'RE TWO VERY DISTINCTIVE
VOICES
FOR THE
HALF-BLOOD BLUES
AND
WASHINGTON BLACK.

Esi says YEAH, SO,
HALF-BLOOD BLUES
WAS A LOT OF RESEARCH INTO,
YOU KNOW, THERE'S SOME
NEW ORLEANS JAZZ SLANG,
THERE'S SOME CHICAGO JAZZ SLANG.
BUT ALSO FILTERING THIS
THROUGH...
FOR ME, THEY'RE SPEAKING
A KIND OF, UM...
IT'S LIKE HALF GERMAN,
IT'S, YOU KNOW,
A LITTLE BIT OF JAZZ SLANG.
SO, IT WAS ALSO TRYING TO COME
UP WITH TERMS THAT...
THAT WOULD SOUND AS THOUGH THEY
WERE FILTERED THROUGH GERMAN,
AND ALSO TERMS THAT WOULD
DESCRIBE THE FEATURES
OF THEIR LANDSCAPE, THIS NEW
WORLD THAT THEY'RE LIVING IN.
SO, WHAT WOULD THEY
CALL NAZIS AND ALL OF THIS.
AND SO, HAVING TO COME UP
WITH TERMS FOR THAT,
SO, IT WAS GREAT FUN.
IT WAS A LOT OF PLAY.
AND THEN,
WASHINGTON BLACK
IS JUST, UM, FOR ME,
IT'S A MUCH MORE
STRAIGHTFORWARD,
PURELY 19TH CENTURY
SORT OF VOICE.
AND THAT WAS, IN A SENSE,
QUITE A BIT EASIER,
JUST BECAUSE I'VE READ SO MUCH
19TH CENTURY LITERATURE.
BUT IT WAS ALSO FUN TO BE ABLE
TO WRITE IN THAT STYLE.

Nam says WELL, I NOTICED SOMETHING.
YOUR OTHER NOVEL,
THE SECOND LIFE OF SAMUEL TYNE,
ALSO FEATURED
A MALE PROTAGONIST,
AS DOES
WASHINGTON BLACK
AND
HALF-BLOOD BLUES.
WHAT DRAWS YOU
TO THE MALE VOICE?

Esi says SO, I DON'T THINK
I CONSCIOUSLY SET OUT TO WRITE,
YOU KNOW, BOOKS PURELY WITH MALE
PROTAGONISTS,
LIKE, ALL THREE OF THEM.
IT JUST HAPPENED TO
BE THOSE WERE THE FOOTNOTES
I CAME ACROSS IN THE STORIES,
AND IT DIDN'T MAKE SENSE
TO CHANGE GENDERS.
BUT ALSO I THINK WRITING...
WRITING FROM
THE MALE PERSPECTIVE, HAS...
IT'S LIKE, GIVEN ME ANOTHER, UH,
SORT OF LAYER
OR FILTER BETWEEN...
BETWEEN MY LIFE
AND THE CHARACTERS' LIVES.
I'M SOMEBODY WHO
DOESN'T WRITE AT ALL
OUT OF MY OWN
DAY TO DAY EXPERIENCE.

Nam says THAT'S VERY INTERESTING.
WHY IS THAT?

Esi says I DON'T KNOW. I JUST...
I DON'T KNOW.
I DON'T KNOW WHY THAT IS.

Nam says DO YOU THINK THAT WOULD BE
TOO CLOSE?
THAT WOULD BE TOO...
REVEALING TOO MUCH ABOUT
YOURSELF AS AN INDIVIDUAL?

Esi says IT COULD BE, OR IT COULD BE THAT
I FIND MY OWN LIFE VERY BORING,
AND IT'S LIKE,
WHY WOULD I WRITE ABOUT THAT?
I DON'T KNOW.
UM, COULD BE, YEAH.
COULD BE THAT I'M A PRIVATE
PERSON AND I'M SORT OF...
THAT MAYBE HAS NOT BEEN
THE FICTION
THAT'S ALWAYS INTERESTED ME
TO READ.
YOU KNOW, I SORT OF... I SORT OF
LIKE TO READ SOMETHING
THAT'S... REMOVED FROM MYSELF,
AND SO MAYBE THAT'S WHY.

Nam says GIVEN THE BIG DIFFERENCE...
DIFFERENCES IN TIME AND PLACE
YOU'VE GONE IN
YOUR BOOKS SO FAR,
WHAT WOULD WRITING OUTSIDE OF
YOUR COMFORT ZONE LOOK LIKE NOW?

Esi says I THINK, UM, IF I WERE TO
WRITE A BOOK THAT WAS SET,
LIKE, YOU KNOW, 2019,
AND, YOU KNOW,
AND SET IN, SAY, VICTORIA,
THIS WOULD BE WRITING
OUTSIDE OF MY COMFORT ZONE.
AND THAT WOULD BE YOU,

Nam says 'CAUSE YOU LIVE IN VICTORIA.

Esi says EXACTLY. I WOULD FIND
THAT REALLY CHALLENGING.
MUCH MORE CHALLENGING THAN,
YOU KNOW,
THAN SORT OF
TAKING ON ANOTHER WORLD.
EVEN THOUGH DOING THAT
INVOLVES SO MUCH RESEARCH
AND HAVING TO
CONSTRUCT THINGS.
YEAH, I THINK MAYBE
I WOULD STRUGGLE TO FIND...
UH, THE BIG STORY IN IT,
BUT PERHAPS I SHOULD DO THAT.
I SHOULD CHALLENGE MYSELF.

The caption changes to "Producer: Chantal Braganza, @chantalbraganza."

Nam says WELL, ESI, IT'S BEEN A REAL
PLEASURE SPEAKING WITH YOU.
UM, WOULD YOU HAVE ANY SIGHTS
ON MAYBE TURNING THESE BOOKS
INTO MOVIES?
BECAUSE EACH ONE READS LIKE
IT COULD BE ON THE BIG SCREEN.

Esi says YEAH, WELL,
HALF-BLOOD BLUES
HAS BEEN OPTIONED, SO THAT'S...

Nam says CONGRATULATIONS.

The caption changes to "tvo.org/theagenda; agendaconnect@tvo.org."

Esi says OH, YEAH. THANK YOU.
UH, AND THEN, YEAH,
SO, WE'LL SEE.
UM, NOTHING SO FAR
WITH
WASHINGTON BLACK...

Nam says THAT'S A BIG DEAL THOUGH.
YOU WERE LIKE, "YEAH, YEAH.
IT'S BEEN OPTIONED."
THAT'S A BIG DEAL.
'CAUSE I KNOW
HALF-BLOOD BLUES,
IT WAS, IT TOOK A WHILE
TO GET A PUBLISHER
FOR THAT BOOK.
SO, FOR THAT TO BE published.

Esi says YEAH, IT WAS A LONG PROCESS.

Nam says THAT MUST
MEAN SOMETHING.

Esi says IT DOES. IT HAD BEEN OPTIONED
BEFORE AND NOT MADE.
I THINK THINGS, YOU KNOW,
MOVE DIFFERENTLY
IN THE FILM INDUSTRY,
SO, BUT YEAH, I'M HAPPY.

Nam says IF YOU WERE TO SAY
SOMETHING TO 12 YEAR OLD ESI,
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY?

Esi says GOSH.
I DON'T KNOW. I GUESS...

Nam says BECAUSE COMING TO
THIS PLACE THAT YOU ARE IN NOW,
IT DID TAKE A LOT OF WORK.

Esi says IT DID TAKE A LOT OF WORK.
I GUESS I WOULD SAY...
THAT QUESTION
KIND OF INVOLVES LIKE...
HOW WOULD YOU DO THINGS
DIFFERENTLY A LITTLE BIT.
I GUESS MAYBE I WOULD SAY,
"JUST HOLD ON."
LIKE, HANG IN THERE. IT'S...
"THOSE TOUGH YEARS
ARE GONNA BE WORTH IT."
MAYBE I'D SAY THAT.

Nam says ESI, IT'S BEEN A REAL PLEASURE,
THANK YOU SO MUCH,
AND CONSIDERING YOU'RE...
YOU HAVE A BIT OF A COLD,
SO WE APPRECIATE YOU
MAKING THE TIME FOR US.

Esi says OH, THANK YOU FOR HAVING ME.

Nam says AND CONGRATULATIONS
ON ALL THE ACCOLADES.
SO DESERVING.

Esi says THANK YOU SO MUCH.

Watch: Esi Edugyan: Freedom Before and After