T. Geronimo Johnson is the author of the new novel Welcome to Braggsville. He also has written the novel Hold It 'Til It Hurts. He is a visiting professor at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and he lives in Berkeley, California.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for Welcome to Braggsville, and for your four main characters?
A: I didn’t. I’m a life plagiarist. A triple-great ancestor twice removed by marriage founded a town under mysterious circumstances. The town is gone, but his legend lives on. So, the novel is loosely based on a true story (though no Civil War Reenactments were injured in the writing of the novel).
Q: Many of the reviews of the book call it satirical. Do you see it that way, and if so, what are some of the concepts you’re satirizing?
A: Welcome to Braggsville is very, very serious. The USA is satirical.
Consider this fact: After decades of referring to their badges as hunting licenses, peace officers are now being randomly indicted for shooting unarmed colored folk in the back. Where's the logic there? Where's the fairness?! Moreover, where's the punch line? And what is satire but an extended joke without a punch line?
Q: Race and Southern history are two of the major themes in the book. What do you hope readers take away from the novel regarding those issues?
A: A) In the majority imagination black life has so little value that even pretending to be black can get you kilt (not the Scottish free for all), so don’t try this at home (and don't expect cash back on that deposit). On a more serious note: C) "Cool" can found in "school" if you’re quiet; B) Respect BBQ on threat of death; D) Justin Bieber is Canadian…
Q: What are you working on now?
A: These questions, an escape plan, and a double Corner Creek neat to quiet the voices in my head.
Q: Anything else we should know?
--Interview with Deborah Kalb