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Reading essays to become a writer

David Wright Faladé(c)Cristobal Vivar

David Wright Faladé's new historical novel “Black Cloud Rising” was inspired by a unit of recently freed or runaway slaves that rooted out the remaining Confederate soldiers along North Carolina’s Outer Banks. Wright Faladé also wrote the nonfiction book “Fire on the Beach,” which is about a 19th-century all-Black crew in the US Coast Guard. He teaches in the MFA program at the University of Illinois. A Texas native, he lives in Austin.

BOOKS: What are you reading?

WRIGHT FALADÉ: I’m reading “Born in Blackness” by Howard W. French. He is revisiting the role that Africa played in Europe’s modernity. When I’m writing fiction I tend to read nonfiction, a lot of history.


BOOKS: Is that book typical of the kind of history you like to read?

WRIGHT FALADÉ: Yeah. I’m a slow reader, so these big books take a while. I was reading a smaller book, Norman Ohler’s “The Bohemians,” which is about this couple in pre-war Germany and their resistance to Nazism. I also read a lot of books by journalists, whom I respect so much. I just don’t have those kind of muscles, to write the first draft of history using primary sources. The last journalistic book I read was a little bit of a slow read — Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey’s book about Harvey Weinstein, “She Said” — but it was great.

BOOKS: What other kind of book do you like to read?

WRIGHT FALADÉ: I read essays. When I began to think about becoming a writer I read a lot of James Baldwin’s essays. I find myself reading Baldwin more than the contemporary essayists. The last thing I read that was more contemporary was Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Between the World and Me.” I read a couple of poems every day. I’m reading Monica Berlin’s collection, “Nostalgia for a World Where We Can Live.” It is totally rich in a quiet way. I’m also reading Corey Van Landingham’s “Love Letter to Who Owns the Heavens,” which is explicitly political in a way I like. I do still read fiction. A few weeks ago I finished David Diop’s “At Night All Blood Is Black.” I found that quietly evocative and really, really layered.


BOOKS: What kind of reader were you growing up?

WRIGHT FALADÉ: I was surrounded by readers. My mom was a huge reader. She sometimes would read a book in a day. Both my sisters were readers. But I just wasn’t a reader. It wasn’t until I went abroad in 1987 to play football professionally in England and then in France that I began to read. Once I decided to be a writer I realized I needed to be a better reader. American books were expensive in Paris but I found the American Library. There in the African American section, I read Baldwin and Ishmael Reed.

BOOKS: Who else did you read there?

WRIGHT FALADÉ: When I left the US I had been reading Toni Morrison’s “Song of Solomon,” which was a hard read for me because it was so layered. But I thought I should read more Morrison. The American Library in Paris didn’t get “Beloved” until a year of so after it was published, but when the book finally arrived there, I read it five times in a row. Over the years I’ve read “Beloved” 13 to15 times.


BOOKS: What was the last classic you read?

WRIGHT FALADÉ: My classics reading is super scattered. When I was at Carleton College, I was a French major so I read the French classics, like Moliere. I’ve never read Shakespeare. We were supposed to in high school but I was a football player so I didn’t.

BOOKS: What books do a good job of capturing Texas?

WRIGHT FALADÉ: H.G. Bissinger’s “Friday Night Lights” is exactly the world I grew up in though it’s a totally different part of Texas. I read more nonfiction about Texas. This fall I read Annette Gordon-Reed’s memoir of growing up in Houston, “On Juneteenth.” I’ve read books about the Comanche, such as S.C. Gwyne’s “Empire of the Summer Moon,” because their territory was exactly where I grew up in the Panhandle. I also read Hampton Sides’s “Blood and Thunder,” a book about Kit Carson. I read these books to make sense of where I come from.

Follow us on Facebook or Twitter @GlobeBiblio. Amy Sutherland is the author, most recently, of “Rescuing Penny Jane” and she can be reached at amysutherland@mac.com.