Live Mic: Best of TPL Conversations

Fruit of the Drunken Tree: Violence, Childhood and Escobar's Columbia

Episode Summary

How does a country live in peace when for generations, there has been no model for peace? How does growing up amidst violence and fear affect the way a child sees the world - and how might she come to feel about that country looking back as an adult in a wealthier country? These are questions that author Ingrid Rojas Contreras considers in her gripping debut novel, Fruit of the Drunken Tree. Set in Colombia during the height of the Escobar cartel’s grip on Colombia, the novel tells the story of an unlikely friendship between two young girls growing up in a climate of political assassinations, kidnappings and car bombs. “You don’t need to have grown up in Bogotá to be taken in by Contreras’s simple but memorable prose and absorbing story line,” says The New York Times review of Contreras’s Impac-Dublin Literary Award-nominated book. Ingrid Rojas Contreras was born and raised in Bogotá, Colombia. Her first novel Fruit of the Drunken Tree is an Indie Next selection, a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection, and a New York Times editor's choice. Her essays and short stories have appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Buzzfeed, Nylon, and Guernica, among others. Rojas Contreras has received numerous awards and fellowships from Bread Loaf Writer's Conference, VONA, Hedgebrook, The Camargo Foundation, and the National Association of Latino Arts and Culture. She is the book columnist for KQED, the Bay Area's NPR affiliate. She teaches writing at the University of San Francisco, and works with immigrant high school students as part of a San Francisco Arts Commission initiative bringing writers into public schools. She is working on a family memoir about her grandfather, a curandero from Colombia who it was said had the power to move clouds. The host of this episode is Jael Richardson, the author of The Stone Thrower: A Daughter’s Lesson, a Father’s Life, a memoir based on her relationship with her father, CFL quarterback Chuck Ealey. The Stone Thrower was adapted into a children’s book in 2016 and was shortlisted for a Canadian picture book award. Richardson is a book columnist and guest host on CBC’s q. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Guelph and lives in Brampton, Ontario where she founded and serves as the Artistic Director for the Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD). Her debut novel, Gutter Child, is coming Fall 2020 with HarperCollins Canada.

Episode Notes

Related Books from TPL’s Collection

Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras

La fruta del borrachero by Ingrid Rojas Contreras (translation of Fruit of the Drunken Tree)

 

Pablo Escobar: my Father by Sebastián Marroquín

Short Walks from Bogotá: Journeys in the New Colombia by Tom Feiling

The Stone Thrower: a Daughter’s Lessons, a Father’s Life: a Memoir by Jael Richardson

 

Other Related Materials

For Debut Novelist Ingrid Rojas Contreras Home is What You Carry With You (link opens Clever article from July 2018)

How Women Survive the World: an Interview with Ingrid Rojas Contreras (link opens Long Reads article from August 2019)

The National Center for Historical Memory (link to organization’s website)

 

Live Mic: Best of TPL Conversations features curated discussions and interviews with some of today’s best-known and yet-to-be-known writers, thinkers and artists, recorded on stage at one of Toronto Public Library’s 100 branches.

Episodes are produced by Natalie Kertes, Jorge Amigo, and Gregory McCormick. Technical support by Michelle De Marco and George Panayotou. AV support by Jennifer Kasper and Mesfin Bayssassew. Marketing support by Tanya Oleksuik.

 

Music is by The Worst Pop Band Ever.

 

Episode Transcription

Fruit of the Drunken Tree: Violence, Childhood and Escobar's Columbia

Gregory McCormick: Welcome to Live Mic: Best of TPL Conversations, our regular Toronto Public Library podcast series featuring curated discussions and interviews with some of today’s best-known and yet-to-be-known writers, thinkers and artists, recorded on stage at one of Toronto Public Library’s 100 branches.

--

Jael Richardson: Welcome Ingrid.

Ingrid Rojas Contreras: Thank you.

JR: This is Ingrid's first time in Toronto.

IC: Yes, yeah.

[applause]

JR: For a nice, cold greeting.

IC: I was just saying I had to walk six minutes to get to the library and I didn't... I wasn't sure if I was gonna make it.

[laughter]

JR: I left my mittens on the train, and so I felt the same way for different reasons. Poor fingers. I'm really excited to talk about this book today. I have one of those situations where I have so many questions, I feel like I need to move really fast so I can ask all of them. But I wanna start by talking about the opening note and I guess a little bit about the closing note, the author's note, as well. There's a reference to the fact that these are all made-up events and all made-up characters, but there's also the sense that they're rooted in a personal story as well. And I just wondered how hard that was putting the story together and separating those parts, which... There's a legal message, you said you had to legally put a message at the beginning, but there's also a personal message at the end, and... What was that like as you crafted this story?

IC: So when I first became a writer, I was convinced that I was going to be a journalist, and that was my background, and that's how I learned writing. But I also... I came up from a lower middle class family and writing books wasn't something that I ever thought I could do, I didn't know people who did it, it just didn't seem like it was within my reach. And with this book and with this story I went back and forth between thinking that I would write it as non-fiction and then not being able to. And so the book is based on this event that happened when I was growing up in Colombia, my mother would take in young girls who had been this displaced by the civil conflict in Colombia, and they would live with us and they would be our nannies and they would do a maid's work. And one of these girls, happened to be living in a displaced people’s settlement and the guerillas, left-wing guerillas has started to have a presence there, and they threatened her into participating in this plan that they had against our family. So I was very haunted by what happened and ever since that I, just always loved writing and everything that I started to write when I came as an immigrant, to the US, had to do with that story.

IC: And so I first wrote it as non-fiction, and I could not get past the first page, of just trying to say what happened, I just could not go there emotionally. There was just a lot there that I wasn't ready to unpack and something magical happened when I just changed the name of the characters and it was just somebody else's experience, of what had been Colombia to me at the time. And doing that was the only way that I found that I could be truthful about what had happened. So yeah, sometimes fiction really allows you to tell the truth about a hard experience that you're not quite ready to look at.

JR: It's funny, I was saying I had just interviewed Zadie Smith last week, in one of her essay she talks about how fiction is the real life, like it's the real things that are happening in some ways. And so that reminded me of that, but I was curious in telling the story that in turning it into a novel. The novel's told by two narrators, Chula, who's the young girl and Petrona, who's the maid. And I was curious about the decision behind the alternating narrators and whether those were the only two voices you've ever had or whether you thought about Cassandra or the mother and just how that decision-making process came down to those two particular.

IC: So I started... There was one point of view with the mother, 'cause she's just such a kind of fiery character and things always happen when she walks into the room. But after trying those three points of view Chula, Petrona and the mother, I just started to notice that there was this resonance between this young middle class girl, and this also young displaced girl, and that their experiences were so extremely different, that their two voices together, painted a portrait of what Colombia was like, like the bridge of inequality and the bridge of how that makes the experience different of violence in the country.

JR: Do you find that there was any limitations when you're having a young narrator in particular, things that you would like to do that just you can't do because she's nine or seven at the time that you're telling this story?

IC: I mean, yeah, there was. I'd mentioned that I had a background in journalism, so I really approached the book in that way, too. So one of the things that I did was I went into this year, where I just did exhaustive research and so I read every issue of the newspaper, The Columbian newspaper from 1989 to 1995.

IC: Yeah. And then, I wasn't... I read many books about Pablo Escobar because the story takes place in the 90s when he's on the run, that's in the background of the book and then not... I wasn't still happy with that. I didn't feel like I had all the things that I needed to know. And I logged into the weather database and I clicked through every day of the novel.

JR: Oh, my gosh.

IC: So by the end of this year, I had this giant piece of paper on my wall, that was mapping assassinations and car bombs that had happened and also just the weather, whether it had rained or whether it was sunny or not. So I had a lot of information...

JR: [chuckle] A lot.

IC: That couldn't make it into the book because it's a seven-year-old girl and a 13-year-old girl, when the book starts. So there's just things that they're not gonna notice. But I started to really like the constriction of those points of view. For the seven-year-old girl, it meant that she would misunderstand constantly the violence around her, and that it would add this level of a threat to her. The most important part for any young person living in a violent environment is to be able to make sense of what is going on around you, and she is someone who is not able to do that. And I was inspired also by talking to my younger cousins in Colombia who live in rural zones and they would also be very confused about what was going on around them and what even the Colombian conflict was. 'Cause we have paramilitaries, we have guerillas, and we have the Army who would also sometimes act against civilians.

IC: And I just remembered that there was this one day where I was walking around with my cousins and my aunt, and there were two men in camouflage who walked by. And my little cousins immediately got very scared, and they tried to hide. And I was trying to tell them, "No, that that's the Colombian army. You don't have to be afraid of them." And my aunt told me, "No, they're too young to be able to tell the difference between the uniforms." And the difference is just that they have a different colored armband. So, if you're a kid, how are you ever going to make sense of that? So I became very interested in the tragedy of young children, and what they're not able to make sense of.

JR: And it's interesting, as a reader, because you know, even when she's like, "No big deal," or, "it's a big deal," you know as an adult what's happening. And I thought that was really fascinating to make that choice.

IC: Yeah, that was really fun to write, 'cause often in the book, she'll be like, "Okay, this is what I heard, and then this is what it means," and she's completely wrong.

[chuckle]

JR: Yeah, she's very wrong, yeah. Well, and one of the things that I thought was really fascinating was the difference between Chula and Petrona, and the class difference, right? Petrona is from an extremely poor, disadvantaged circumstances. Chula's obviously got more. And one of the things that I was curious about... So there's this one scene where she's playing with dolls, and there's another scene where Petrona is sort of playing. And I was thinking about the ways that class impacts the way we make believe as children. And I just wondered what your thoughts were on that, if that was something you were intentionally thinking about. Because it seemed to me that what you imagine and what you hope for and what you believe possible is different, and so how you play becomes different.

IC: Yeah, that was something that was very much on my mind. I was remembering how in... I don't know, do you guys play cops and robbers? Is that a game here?

[chuckle]

IC: I wasn't sure, so I...

[chuckle]

IC: So, in Bogotá, when I was growing up, we would play Pablo Escobar and cops.

[laughter]

IC: Because that's just the reality that we're referencing. But when I... Both my parents come from very poor backgrounds, and we would go visit with their families as I was going up every year. And I just remember going there and seeing that the games were very different than what we played in Bogotá, in the city. So, when... I'll tell you about two games that I witnessed, just so you know or get a sense of what... I think there's a real wisdom in how children are trying to understand their surroundings by the games that they play. But one game involved getting a soccer ball, and they would wrap it with barb wire, and then they would douse it with alcohol and then light it on fire. And then they would play soccer with this ball. So there was the... part of the game is like, are you courageous enough to do this?

1IC: And then another game that I saw was, little boys had found, they would do this... Usually, they would find the scorpion, and then they would make a ring of fire around the scorpion and then watch the scorpion as it stabbed itself. So there is... I think that when it comes to communities that have experienced a lot of violence, and if you're young and you have seen a lot of death and destruction, then how do you make sense of that? And sometimes the way that you make sense of that is through this play-acting that happens. So that was very much on my mind, as I was thinking of what might these two girls play if they're in a middle class, and how would this other girl, who has had a more direct experience of violence, how would she fit into that game?

JR: Yeah, it may be... I thought of it, right away. 'Cause, I remember when I was doing in the memoir, I grew up middle class and my dad grew up really poor. And I remember him saying the games he played, and, would tie like a string on a fly and race them around the room and stuff, and I was like...

[laughter]

JR: You know, and I was like, "Did mom play games like that?" They're like, "No, she had a skipping rope."

[laughter]

JR: And it was like... Just very different. And it was fascinating to look at that, and that's probably one of the most impactful scenes is when Chula's playing with her dolls, and that whole scene that you all will read when you buy the book, okay?

[laughter]

JR: Another thing that really interested me was faith, and how... I grew up in a very religious home as well, and just the way that the girls... That becomes a source of fear and a source of hope, and I wondered what the danger, or the advantage of faith is in that kind of circumstance and setting.

IC: Yeah. So, I was thinking about the way in which, when you are maybe on the verge of losing everything, how the only recourse that you have left at that point is faith. And in the book, the mother, she ties these aloe leaves on the door, by the front door, on top of the, what am I saying? On top of the door frame, and as a way to try to ward off the bad luck that the family is having. And that is the, maybe the only thing that she can do. So I do believe that's true when you... When everything is kind of stripped away, you resort to these more magical gestures that you hope will have some kind of positive effect.

JR: There's also all these things that became things that they were deeply afraid of, or at least curious about, the blessed souls of purgatory and there was holy fear everywhere, and it becomes this thing that follows the girls around as well that I just found fascinating. It leads them to do all these things at night, and I'm like, "Stay home. Be safe." But...

[laughter]

JR: But they become really curious about that. And is that part of... Is it part of the imagination, or is it part of the fear, do you think?

IC: I think it's a little bit of both, when I feel like, when you're young and you are, there's a very real fear around you that you can't make sense of. Then it just, your fear about this vague thing bleeds into everything for them. So I felt like the characters in the book were just vaguely afraid and they couldn't untangle why they were afraid, and so then they're afraid of all kinds of things that they can name. Just because they can't name the other thing.

JR: My husband has a fascination, I will say, with Pablo Escobar and over the last year or two, he's just been watching documentary after documentary and film after film, and I can't handle it. [chuckle] So I was reading the book and this is perfect for me. It's like the perfect entry way into history is when I read novels, I don't know why, but... So I would be like, “When did Pablo Escobar die? And how did this happen?” He would just recite all the information that he had. But Pablo Escobar is like a really important part of this book, even though he's not in the book per se. In that he's this powerful source of fear. And it made me think about power. And what's interesting is that there's also these moments where actual power is being affected in the communities. There's not electricity there's not... And so, I wondered about the real and the imagined impacts of Pablo Escobar and the real fear he created and the myth that he created, and just from living there, from having family there, what, are we seeing it accurately through these documentaries and these films and these things that we're watching, are we glorifying it, are we missing something when it comes to it? Was there something about that that you wanted to show in the book?

IC: So I think, there's been a lot of books and novels that came out right after he died, and the decades since that, that glorify Pablo Escobar and they kind of perpetuate this myth about him, and I felt like when we were living through that time that there was a myth and he was larger than life to all of us, but he was also in the background of things. He wasn't the thing that we wondered about every day. And I also felt like a lot of the media now about him just tells one part of the story and I think that we get excited about criminal masterminds and I feel like he was a criminal mastermind. One of the things that I'm really impressed that he did was he was trying to smuggle drugs into the US and the way that he figured it out, was that they... He knew that there would be dogs sniffing the bricks of drugs. So he thought that... He had lions, he had lions as part in his mansion estate and so he kicked the bricks of cocaine with poop from the Tigers, so that when the drug-sniffing dogs came close to the brick, because they would be afraid of a larger animal, they would stay away and not... And it worked.

IC: So that he was a criminal mastermind. And there were many interesting things that came to light when he was on the run and one of the things is that he kept a journal, and so sometimes the press would get a hold of his personal writings or his letters that would just be abandoned in a safe house that he had to leave because he had been found out. One of the letters, talked about how he was trying, actively trying to build this persona of himself as Robin Hood. And so that was why he was driving around his community and just passing out amounts of money to poor people, or why he was buying them houses and building schools and building soccer fields. So, that could, that perception of him could live. So it was a very calculated move on his part. And yeah, the other thing that I don't think we get to hear too much is, how savage he was. He killed a lot of people and he didn't have a second thought about doing things like that, and a lot of families were just very much affected by the actions that he took.

JR: And I remember hearing somebody talk about the different ways that somebody like Pablo Escobar can be a role model to one group of people, who like, he makes a difference, he comes, he visits, he gives and to others can be this immense source of fear, and that the politics can make that really difficult to navigate what to see, what to believe. There's one question, I wondered about your spending all this time in Pablo Escobar's [chuckle] like life and actions. What that did to you for you? Was that, did you enjoy it? Did it, sometimes you have to sort of step away and be like, this is too much?

IC: I always, you know what I had to do, was I had to read all these books that were just, how did he do it? How did he actually be on the run for so long? How did he accomplish this? I would balance with reading that by going through newspaper articles and reading about like, "Oh these many people died in this car bomb." Or he blew up a plane so that he could kill one person, and then the person didn't... wasn't even on the plane and so he just blew up a plane for no reason. And going back and forth between those two things was what allowed me to have a more nuanced view who he was or just not be seduced by the myth of him. But I think that's an exercise that all writers try to do when they're writing fiction is to just not... To have a more even view of someone as opposed to just, he was amazing.

JR: Yeah. There's a really powerful line in later in the book about telling stories and the line I'm paraphrasing is something like, you tell your story and you tell it once and then you don't tell it again. And then there's a lot that goes on throughout the book and about whether to talk or whether to stay silent about these stories. And I wondered what the power or the danger is in those moments of recalling history and recalling events and breathing them into life or withholding them. And if one is better than the other?

IC: I always think that when you, when you've freshly have gone through something, it's really hard to tell that story right then. 'Cause you can't help but re-live what you just relived. And so the initial... The initial response that you, that you have to being in that is to just push it down and then just try to figure out how you can move on. But I've always felt that there was a disservice that happens and that we should try to act against that desire, if it's available to us. Because there's maybe it is more comfortable to just forget and to leave something behind. But you also leave a part of yourself behind if you do that. Or you leave a part of your identity behind if you do that. And we... Columbia has been a country that has had many different civil wars going on for many years. And so we're also a community that we, things happen to us, and then we don't wanna talk about it. And we are... It's actually a very happy country. There's a world survey where a bunch of people get asked, "How happy are you in your country?" And Columbia was the happiest country through the 90s.

[laughter]

IC: Even though there is, it was one of the most violent times that we lived through. And so there's something beautiful about that too, that you are living amidst so much violence and death, and you want to underline on the joy of life. And you want to underline on your ability of laughing and dancing, and making a joke. But we are just now entering this place where we are finally telling all the stories and there's an amazing organization called The Center of Memory that just started working, maybe five, five years ago. And just really making an effort to get all the victims to tell their stories and finding ways of compiling what everyone has gone through 'cause it's so varied and it's so, there's such a big range. So there's people that have lived through massacres, there's people who have participated in that and maybe been forced to participate in that. So it's never a simple thing. And I think, when we... When we don't talk about it, and we let that fall behind and into the past, then we just lose our ability to know who we are.

JR: The book is called Fruit of The Drunken Tree. So there's this tree, that's very central to the story. And I wondered if that was a starting point or a place of origin. I kept thinking about the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil, in the Bible. I just, for some reason, it kept bringing me back to that because it was this thing on the property that had all these myths about it and I was wondering what was the interest in that tree and how did that figure in creating the story, and making the title?

IC: So I... So there's this tree that we having in Columbia. I don't know, do you have it here?

JR: I don't think so.

IC: It looks...

JR: I'm not very good with plants though. That's my husband's thing. I kill them.

IC: I mean the flower, the flower looks like this, do you have it? Yes?

JR: Do we?

IC: It's a Datura. It's a Datura.

[background conversation]

IC: There's black... Okay, so there's different types, but... So the one that we have in Columbia is more toxic and it's a tree. And there's... Indigenous people have been using this tree since then. They would grind the seed together and it becomes a drug, and we call it burundanga. And when you're exposed to this drug, it doesn't affect any of your motor skills, but you lose your ability to make your own decisions. So it's known as a zombie drug. And so it's a very strange, it's a very strange drug. And it's very hard to catch because if... Usually how it's used is you're exposed to it, somebody might blow this powder in your face, then they will take you to a cab and they will just drive you from ATM to ATM, and tell you like withdraw all your money.

JR: Oh my God.

IC: And you will do it. And so if... It won't seem to anyone that there's anything wrong, 'cause you seem like this is your decision that you're making. So I actually, I grew up with this tree in my front garden. And I was just always just very mystified by it because it's beautiful. It's just this gorgeous flower and it smells amazing. It smells like perfume. And when I was writing the book in California, there was this tree in my garden there. So I felt like it was just always around in my mind as I was thinking about the book. And as I started to write the novel, it became a symbol for Columbia. I just started to think of it as this gorgeous thing but that has danger running through it.

JR: I'm glad I asked, so fascinated by that tree. One of the things that I thought was interesting listening to, I listened to it and read the book physically, is that there's lots of Spanish in the book and I could only listen in parts. So I would go back to the book and be like, "What did they do in the book?" And it's not italicized and it's not translated in the book or in the audio. And I wondered if you had to do any arguing to make that happen and what you wanted readers to experience by having that just blended with everything else.

IC: So I left Columbia when I was 14. And it marks the time when I really started to be bilingual because we left and, we left because of the violence in Columbia. And I had so many personal things that I wanted to say about losing my friends and losing my home and then being in this new place. But my mother was a very nosey person. So if I wrote just anyway, if I tried to hide it, she would find it, she would read it. But she didn't know English, so I started to write in English back then. And we moved to Venezuela and then we were there for a year and we basically just bounced around South America trying to find a stable situation and not being able to. So I finally went to the US to study college and it was that transition. It just became English became the language of immigration for me. It was a place where I was speaking in a language that wasn't my first tongue. And when I was writing Fruit of the Drunken Tree, I was also working as a translator and an interpreter at the time. And I was fascinated with whatever happens in your brain that makes it possible for you to hear one language and then immediately speak in another.

IC: So when I was writing the book, I would sit in front of my computer and I would hear and imagine and think of everything in Spanish. And by the time that I would be typing, I would type it in English. So I think of this book as a translation, ‘cause I initially just conceived it in my brain in Spanish. So there were moments where I wanted to stretch the language into feeling like Spanish. And I wanted it to sound like Spanish. So there were moments where there wasn't an immediate translation or there wasn't a way for me to say something. And so I would either transliterate it. So for example, early on in the book there's a saying that we have when somebody is pregnant, we say her belly was filled with bones.

IC: So that's a saying that we have in Columbia. I wasn't interested in finding the English equivalent of that. And I was more interested in giving the reader the ability to hear what that is. Cause it's so violent and strange and such an eerie way to say that someone is carrying a life inside of them. And so being in between languages and seeing those moments where languages are estranged and they carry different cultures inside of them became very important to me. So I said all these things to my editor and I said, "So this is why we're not doing italics or why I'm not translating some of the words." And they were okay with it. I didn't have to fight past just explaining what I wanted and what I was intending.

JR: I love that line too, and I couldn't figure. Yeah. I won't spoil it. I won't spoil the book, but like that line comes very early on in the book. And so whether or not it's an accurate reflection of what happens, I will let you figure out. But it was super fascinating for me to hear it and then see what happens in the book cause I think it actually ends up having many meanings in a lot of ways, which is pretty cool. I also have to say, when I was listening, there was a word that I did not know. Most of it I would hear. And it was like somebody speaking a different language and you're like, "Oh, I think I got some of that." There was one word that I don't know, it stuck with me and I wanted to go find it and I only found it recently.

JR: So in the audio book, it's invasiones, which actually is in invasions. Yeah. So, but I was totally off on what I thought that meant. I thought it was a place, like the name of a place, so I find it really enjoyable, I wanted to say as somebody who doesn't speak Spanish to be put through that work of understanding more about a community and culture. And I think we've always stayed away from it and shied away from the effort of translating and working through. And I just really enjoyed it.

IC: Thank you.

JR: Yeah. My last question, before you all get to ask questions, which just means you need to get brains ready for your questions, is a question that I think about a lot, and I wondered about the word home and what home means to you and whether that was clear when you started the book, what home meant or if that's something you wanted to pursue or unravel in writing the book.

IC: That yeah, I've always thought about the idea of home. So when we first left Colombia, we could only pack... My sister and I packed one bag together, so I had half of a suit case in order to fit whatever I wanted. And I remembered that when it came to that, we were leaving, like you need to get whatever you want. What I wanted to bring was so strange but it had this meaning, that it took me years to understand, but one of the things that I really wanted to bring was this, you know like a tangram set, that the kindergarteners will play with these flat blocks of... It's like a triangle, a rectangle. So I stole one from kindergarten, I stole this red rectangle, I don't know why but I loved this little flat rectangle and I loved the color and sometimes I would take it home with me, this is kindergarten, I would take it home with me and then I would feel guilty and I would bring it back the next day.

JR: Then you just took it.

IC: And then eventually I just took it 'cause... That was one of the things that I kept. And I have this... I bought this ink that has a wax, it's been waxed on the top. And I brought my mother’s used lipstick that she was storing away and so I still have these three things, and I oddly think of them as whatever those three things are that's where home is. And because we... I told you we went to Venezuela and then we went to all these different countries, the things that we could bring with us just slowly started to...get less and less. So these three things are the three things that I have the longest history to. And I have brought with me everywhere that I went. So that's always been really interesting to me, and I've talked to a lot of immigrants asking them what they brought or what they still have from when they left. And I used to live in Chicago and that was my favorite question to ask of people when it was late at night, we were waiting for the train under the heat lamp, we're freezing.

JR: So you're not...

IC: So I'm familiar with this kind of cold.

JR: No, yeah.

IC: But it's been so many years though, since I've been in that weather. And it was surprising, hearing what people still have and what they had a connection to, but there was an African man who told me that he still has his mother's slippers, and that's the only thing that he has. Somebody had a key to the front door of their house which they're never gonna return to and probably that building is gone. So I find these ways that we think of home and the ways in which we try to access them in our present lives when that is completely lost and irretrievable.

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On the Live Mic episode page, livemic.ca, you will find biographies of featured writers, guests and hosts, as well as links to TPL’s collections or other episode-related materials. For all of TPL’s podcast series go to tpl.ca/podcasts
 

Toronto Public Library is one of the world's busiest urban public library systems. Every year, more than 20 million people visit our 100 branches in neighbourhoods across the city and borrow more than 32 million items.

 

Live Mic: Best of TPL Conversations is produced by the Toronto Public Library. Episodes are produced by Natalie Kertes, Jorge Amigo, and me, Gregory McCormick. Technical support by Michelle De Marco and George Panayotou. AV support by Jennifer Kasper and Mesfin Bayssassew. And marketing support by Tanya Oleksuik.


Music is by Worst Pop Band Ever also known as WPBE.

 

I’m Gregory McCormick, Manager of Cultural and Special Event Programming at Toronto Public Library. Thanks for listening and stay tuned for another episode of Live Mic: Best of TPL Conversations.