tv Tanya Selvaratnam Assume Nothing Nadia Owusu Aftershocks CSPAN October 24, 2021 3:36am-4:12am EDT
gorgeous anyone out there should just get this to look at it if not read it. samantha from the front light of the climate crisis this is the master class and what has gone wrong with disaster response over the past 20 years. thank you so much for being with us, really appreciate it. to the audience out there you can purchase either of these from a number of independent booksellers at bookshop.org also please consider supporting the san diego counsel san diego.org. if you enjoyed this program watch more st festival books.com. thank you again for clicking in this has been the san diego festival of their
memoirs on identity, race, and violence against women. ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ >> hello, welcome to the san diego union tribune festival of books. my name is lacy crawford i'm an author of fiction and nonfiction most recently a memoir called notes on a silencing. i have the great honor today of speaking with two women who have published memoirs in early 2021 that are beautiful critically important at the same time and a very different
ways. we are speaking today with nadia who is the author of aftershocks. not it is a brooklyn -based writer and urban planner. the guardian, with the debut books, it is right here, it is beautiful and has been out since january. tonya is an artist, producer and writer. she is the author of two works of nonfiction of the 2014 books the big light motherhood, feminism and the reality of the biological clock. her second highly acclaimed work of nonfiction assume nothing which was published just in february. both of these books as
lockdown was still continuing a little bit and we have been virtual for more than a year at this point. we are virtual even now. they are very different books that have come out at a very similar time. like to ask each of the authors to give us a brief overview of the book itself. the subject matter so we can be clear about the ways in which they are different. >> can i start? >> please. like to thank you for the introduction and i'm really looking forward to talking with you both. i describe as a literary memoir the complexities of family, the multiplicity of identity in the ripple effects of trauma. a little bit about my story. my mother left when i was to she was native american. i was raised by my father who
works for the un so we moved around too different countries every couple of years. and so i am exploring themes of belonging my father died when i was 13. that was one of the big shocks in my life that i sort of take on the project of my book for me was trying to marry myself to closer understanding of histories that shake me both in terms of family histories in terms of the broader histories in which this family exists including the colonization and the tribe might father came from. the american family escaped in order to come to america. and look at all of those and
my own weaving them into my own experience to sort of define myself in a way that i have not always been able to because there are so many stories that it had to wrestle with about who i am in the world. >> my book has been described as a dark psychological thriller i describe the events as they unfolded. can save lives by giving the reader the resources to prevent partner violence. take the reader the stages i went through to get entangled in an abusive relationship with the former new york state attorney general and how i got out and how i reclaimed my voice. a book is a dark subject but also has a lot of healing and light. i wrote it to expose intimate
violence in committed relationships. i wrote it to call up the enablers without with the predators were not good with the abuse. and to encourage by standards. and most importantly i wrote for the millions of people who experience instant partner violence, many of them before they turn 18. >> tonya i wanted to ask you first, your experience with the former new york state attorney general was reported on a piece of reporting and the new yorker before your book was written, is that right? and so you, and away, reverse the process many more mart writers have or nonfiction writers as you write your story the best you can then you go through legal review and fact checking and the interaction with the truth bodies out there. you did at the other way around.
your book is also attentive to not only the experience of the relationship itself, but also the experience of the telling of the relationship itself. that is very much a plot in the book as i read it. i'm very, very interested in what it felt like for you to have this subject reported on in the way it was and then go ahead and write the story yourself? >> well, i chose to participate in the investigation come forward with very specific objectives. i discovered i was part of a pattern of him abusing his intimate partners. and so i wanted to call out the abuse. i wanted to expose hypocrisy of someone who champion women publicly but abuse them privately and also to prevent them from harming other
women. that was not going to happen if i posted on social media. that wasn't going to happen if i filed a civil suit. i would have site had to sign most likely so i chose the court of public opinion. i had no intention of writing a book at that time. i wanted to get on with my life. but then what happened, after the story came out in may 2018 and that investigative report of the new yorker, i had so many people reaching out to me sharing their own stories of intimate violence. so many of them were eerily similar to mine women and men. and many different generations i felt compelled to write a book for them. and also i was dealing with -- intense depression after the story came out i been in survival mode preparing for the exposé. and then, when i could properly process i needed to
write my way out of the darkness. i am just grateful that i am a writer and i can use my art. like to say what life throws you lemons make art and that is what i did. >> you did do that with this book. i have heard from women who work in the field and counseling that is become fundamental. particularly because you identify with someone who is so well protected and so much the top of the hierarchy. i'm interested in writing your way out of the darkness. i'm interested in the moment when, it is it describes an aftershock finding as a young woman and her late 20s in new york city and old blue rocking chair on the sidewalk in new york city for this happens all the time in new york with furniture put out for free. and after her roommate inspected for bedbugs she's permitted to take it in, get in the chair. at this point a lifetime of
lost cause first by the abandonment of your mother and then by the death of your father when you're not quite 14. this starts to build, and build, and build an whether it's an ocean and you say imprint, here it comes. both of you have in this moment, in your book the moment you realize something must be reckoned with internally personally and this is what gives a drive and gives a motive to the narrative. tonya and i spoke of helping other women and men and you have. i'm interested in hearing from both of you about that feeling. i think there's not a person who will watch this that does not know that feeling but hasn't been quite sure what to do next. nadia maybe you could start. >> yes i absolute wrote aftershock. i did not know i was writing a book at the time. but i began to write my way
out as tonya put it. i was working to process trauma and overcome this ache of isolation i had felt most of my life being distant from loved ones for most of my life geographically and otherwise being estranged from my mother. losing my father at such a young age. and what i learned in the writing the book began as a pilot project i did not have the intention of publishing it at first. it's so urgent i had to make sense of the events of my life. and i had to come to more deeply understand the places and people i belong too. which is what many call a third culture that i grew up outside of both of my families cultures. i never deeply understood my family's history or where they came from but i did not speak their languages. i felt often removed from the people i was closest to in so many ways.
and so i was wanting to write myself to be belonging. which is something i felt i needed in that moment. i was in a really deep. of question and anxiety. as you said i found myself collapsing or seeking asylum in this blue rocking chair. i was really not sure how i was going to make my way back out into the world. but what i learned in the writing i started in that blue rocking chair, and in reading a lot of literature i've been repressing trauma for years. my own grief and pain but that does not work. that is not what that is about. it seems so obvious but at the time it was really a revelation for me. so through the writing i was connecting to the feelings that i had buried and connecting myself to other
people and our reckoning with their own trauma. and said that is what i found. interestingly otherwise writing from a place of grief i very quickly that is what was on the other side of my grief and the other side of loss with that longing. and the desire for recognition and connection. and so the book really started as a deeply personal private project. it was not until years later i went back to the raw material asked myself how might i make art out of this and others similarly wrestling and a reckoning with the stories of their own lives. many had been mistreated, how might they see a way out through my story?
>> and for me is it introverted child i've been a terrific notetaker. throughout that difficult time i have been taking notes. when i finally felt like i was ready to look at my notes about 300 pages worth. i started to piece together the book from that period is very important for me not just to tell my story but include so many other people stories and to provide that appendix of resources at the end with organizations that people can reach out to for help. and also with a checklist for the signs of an abusive relationship and their impact. i also wrote the book very much inspired when she said i'm going to write fire until it comes out of my ears, my nose, and everywhere. until it is every breath i
breathe i'm going to go out like a meteor. i felt i wanted to put my details in their as humiliating as they are the mix up the perception of what it looks like a victim looks like all of us in an abuser is of all stripes. i was estimating the fractures with the myself and hoping to start a public dialogue. >> tonya for you, you met this man at the 2015 national convention. you had been working on a national stage as a media producer if i'm understanding correctly as a campaign organization, working to dual social justice and social change policy efficacy. you are surrounded by people who share those goals. this man was in many ways at the top of that pile.
he also was someone who is not only in a position of advocacy but prosecution someone who could actually make things happen. one of the things i found most painful but most powerful about your book is you reckoning with the dissidents. i think there are a lot of you us who know the experience of bearing witness from our own lives or shared with us in creating change. you are in the business of change making. calls for change sharply more than anything else. i wonder if you could talk with them about the experience of the powers that were against your speaking up, not so much but the hierarchy i would consider to be progressive and supportive.
>> there aren't many people who discourage me from coming forward. as of the top of the chain of being a progressive hero per they thought he had important to do. but i believed no person who was an abuser is indispensable and cannot be replaced by someone who is not an abuser. in fact in my situation, my abuser was replaced by leticia james who was the first black and female attorney general of new york state. i do not give myself credit for this but i am very proud of that unexpected outcome that here we go, change can happen if you speak the truth. so when i say in the book let's split the world open together let's split the world open together by sharing our story. it is so important to call out
hypocrisy. there are too many people who do these proclamations and good deeds to mask their inward facing private nefarious deeds. we see it all the time police outlets are the uprisings against racism. how many corporations and individuals make statements about black lives matter, make donations but when you take a look at their internal systems they are as corrupt and racist as ever. cook so about that piece of information you had that in some way gets belied or maybe more of what it does is it demonstrates institutions are designed to protect themselves, they protect themselves at all costs. if that means there is an abuser of songs institution continue appear to do its work we will say mom that something i'm certainly familiar with.
not yet your book opens with a scene between you and the woman who was i supposed her stepmother. she was almost halfway in a way between a stepsister and stepmother but certainly had married your father. you had a fraught relationship as you described it. in a moment of high tension she claims to have a piece of information about your father that you did not have. a little bit of knowledge. i was really rattled by the use of secrets in such a cruel way. and the way you then work at that secret over the course of the book is both painful and poisonous. i wondered if you could talk a bit about knowledge of both as it came to you and you were forced to either chase it or deny in that context.
>> i grew up believing my father because i grew up without a mother my father reason he was in many ways mother and father. the relationship i had with my stepmother was fraught for all sorts of reasons i think we're set up to fail in so many ways. my devotion to my father caused me even at a very young child rejection from the outset. at the same time she was trying to figure out who she was in the world and found herself suddenly parenting these two girls and was not completely equipped to do so. at the same time i think after my father died the framework for our relationship existed to deteriorate even further. i think my step mother
struggled how difficult it was for me too face my own trauma. i think it was really difficult for her to face her own trauma. it's something that became rigid in her and i knew that. so in that moment after the many years of a very fraught relationship my stepmother came to new york where i was living i was in my 20s. we had a fight that was very inconsequential of nothing of real importance but we knew how to push each other's buttons. and i knew accusing her of being overly emotional was something that would really wound her and it did. and so her response to that was to cause me too question my relationship with my father was what held most dear my life was when the few things in my life there was constant
and steady. so the revelations either a secret or lie i still don't know but my father died not of cancer which is what i had always believed that he had died of aids. why that was so shocking to me is because in my story of my life, my father and i were so close. there is no way he was going to be able to keep such a secret from me and that he would not have cap such a secret from me. and so it followed for me was a real reckoning. that was the moment that forced me too question all of the stories i had been clinging to with both hands. it also forced me too acknowledge some biases and myself. once i was able to get some space from that revelation from my stepmother, i had to question why it was i thought dying of cancer was somehow
more noble than dying of aids. the way it was revealed to me was it was important for me too reckon with my own biases. and i needed to retreat for my life and write a story i could live in. i realized that story was so shaky what other stories i felt were really necessary to me were shaky. how could i reclaim my own story so that my stories cannot be used against me as weapons in the future? that was something i very intentionally set out to do. in the case about my stepmother revealed in terms of my father's death, a lot of the book moves back and forth
we actually lived in uganda during the aids epidemic there. i could recall some of the harmful narrative that i heard i'd not paid attention to hearing at the time i was absorbing them. it was a reminder to me of how we drink from poisoned groundwater in terms of the tort stories we tell ourselves. and then once i realized it became a process of undoing the stories within myself as well. >> i thought i burned with anger absently through the book start to finish. ninety at the moment when you're stepmother says this to you, i had not ranked cancer versus aids in my mind of what she thought she was signifying was a betrayal of her which would then represent also the betrayal because you're not known about it. i thought it was incredibly
cruel to offer that to you, to suggest that to you because it would shake so much of the faith you would say will have to consider and then all the stories written and known it for myself. i think when you say, as you just did that you did not want your story to be used against you as a weapon in the future. i hope you're surrounded by people who are less inclined to do that even in moments of anger at a restaurant in new york city. but i think tonya i thought of you because one of the things you work hard to do in your book to help others is to explain how it is someone who is extraordinarily accomplished and capable as you are and self possessed and self-aware could end up in a relationship like this to really challenge what we consider a victim to look like. : : :
>> the fairytale stage is going to be a relationship in the key one it is how the prey gets lured in by the predator and i was not prepared for my past to intersect with an abuser and i think many people are not prepared that the big reason why wrote the book i was shocked and i'm still shocked to think that i got myself into the situation but i was also able to exploit
the factors in myself that made myself vulnerable to the situation i was a child who witnessed horrific and tremendous violence in a group in a society where misogyny and patriarchy are normalized in violence is normalized and how we put up with far more than we should and i wanted to make peace and kindness more exciting than bullying and violence in writing this book. the other thing i would say, it is a collective project to chip away at that conditioning and i hope that more people take up the charge to do so, were in a crisis, the domestic violence crisis has been to heighten during the pandemic because victims and additional stressors of the pandemic and already the statistics one in four women will experience some form of
violence in their lifetime happens the farmer people were not alone and we are not crazy. have you felt that there was power against you were speaking out in support of it? >> i have been more grateful than ever for my friends in the community that have supported this book, i will also say i was not prepared for the impact about talking about the book would have on me i felt strong after writing the book but over the past few months and talking about over and over again it's
been bringing back memories that i thought i had made peace with so i am making peace with them again and that's a process that i'm going, the next book is a novel fantasia and am writing one about house plans because that's a positive thing that happened during the pandemic in those give me joy. it's finding ways to experience joy in it so important for me in this process and for everyone because we had a terrible year. >> it's possible to get tired of being called brave? definitely and being a hero is sometimes really lonely so i felt conflicted thinking you for putting this book in the law and talking about it more but i'm
really keen to have as many people as possible read and understand and we all read the new yorker piece but the opportunity i wish we could do this all the time and i wish every piece can be followed by the member and subject in a dropsy right there and anyone of us would follow, what has your experience of putting this book into the american reading world then during lockdown in this crazy time. >> of course i did not plan for my book to come out during a global pandemic but i think people's understanding of the feeling that i was carrying and i carried so much of my life and feeling disconnected feeling like i could never find steady ground i think so many people shared and could immediately densify the feelings in themselves it's been interesting to talk about the book in that context, i think also with the racial uprising that we had last
summer in the conversation they were having now about whether or not they actually like any meaningful change contributing to that conversation has felt really meaningful and important as well because in reckoning with my own understanding of who i am in my own histories, as i said a shadow like for me on how many of her histories in particular for those of us who come from multiple identities have experienced depression are histories or ill treated and have always been an endless were really vigilant and paying attention we treat them badly ourselves and don't have a full understanding of our own stories the stories of families like mine, immigrant families, black families in the so-called developing world all of those stories i think this was a moment that i would talk about in a different way, more
urgently and maybe with the site opening in terms of people being able to relate their own, all kinds of people being able to relate to them in a different way and it opportunity for deeper understanding and a rich and beautiful way and examine my culture in a way that honors them in honors that i briefly called home and the forces and private choices that shape my life i think the way in which history is present in the way that we carry history in our bodies i think it's something that people were really coming to terms with and working to understand it's been an interesting time to release a book like this it is been difficult many ways but it's also been an opportunity for me too rethink my own stories in a
place in the world as well. >> you both offered rich examples of how to consider what cruelty looks like and how it functions and what stories look like and how they can save us and i wish we had more than a half an hour there is so much i can say about the work of finding home and safety and kindness but i have to wrap this up, first tonya assume nothing and nadia aftershock said the two books that we discussed and they both can be purchased for bookshop.org i believe it will be made available in the bookseller partners and they will support independent bookstores and authors and greeters please consider supporting the san diego council on literacy, there is a url available here and please continue to join the san diego festival of books for the program of author panels,
exciting demonstration and live entertainment entirely online so we can stay safe and zoom in from anywhere all videos will be available on the san diego festival of books website which i hope will appear on the screen any minute as a festival of books.com, thank you so much for listening please do read both of these books are beautiful and important i am lacey crawford and i'm really grateful to have been here, thank you sohe page r