Interview with Mathea Morais, author of THERE YOU ARE
Growing up in the ’80s and ’90s in St. Louis, Octavian Munroe and Mina Rose found a future in music. Between the stacks at Rahsaan’s Records, the two fell in love to the sounds of Prince and A Tribe Called Quest. But in the wake of grief and heartbreak, they drifted apart, ultimately leaving the city for fresh starts. Decades later, Rahsaan’s Records is closing for good. Seeking closure of their own, Octavian and Mina travel homeward, reckoning with the ghosts of the past they left behind and the uncertain future they must create. Insightful and nostalgic, There You Are is a wise novel of love, loss, and the power of community, backed by a phenomenal soundtrack of hip hop, soul, and jazz.
What is your book about?
Growing up in the ’80s and ’90s in St. Louis, Octavian Munroe and Mina Rose found a future in music. Between the stacks at Rahsaan’s Records, the two fell in love to the sounds of Prince and A Tribe Called Quest. But in the wake of grief and heartbreak, they drifted apart, ultimately leaving the city for fresh starts. Decades later, Rahsaan’s Records is closing for good. Seeking closure of their own, Octavian and Mina travel homeward, reckoning with the ghosts of the past they left behind and the uncertain future they must create. Insightful and nostalgic,
Why did you decide to set your book in St. Louis?
I grew up in St. Louis and spent a lot of time hanging around a local record store called Vintage Vinyl. I never worked at the store – I was more of a groupie really, but I loved the different people who came in and who worked there. It seemed like the perfect place to set a novel. When I moved away, I met a lot of people who grew up outside of the Midwest, and the South (because St. Louis is really both in a lot of ways) who had a very different idea about what that part of the country is like. I wanted to pay homage to where I came from – give it a chance to show itself – for better or worse – on the page.
How did you develop the title, There You Are?
Every character in the book is in some way lying, or has lied, about who they are and have had to deal with the implications of those lies. So the title reflects the idea of no matter where you go, there you are. It also speaks to the love story in the book and about finding that person that you’ve always felt like you lost and wished that you hadn’t.
Can you discuss the importance of the racism in your novel?
St. Louis is one of the most historically segregated cities in the United States, so in my mind there’s no way to write about St. Louis without writing about the systemic racism and white supremacy that is so prevalent there. The characters in my book are Black and white kids living in and relating to one another within a system that was built to advantage white people over Black people. And each of them is dealing with how this affects their lives. Placing these characters – and especially an interracial relationship – in one of the most historically segregated and racist cities in the country and showing the trajectory from the 80s up until the murder of Michael Brown by Darren Wilson, allowed me to reflect on my own experiences growing up in that city, but also to show that the white supremacist system that allowed Michael Brown to be murdered, and Darren Wilson to be acquitted of that murder, has been in place forever.
Why did you choose to give music such an important role in the book?
Music has been such an integral part of my life. I tried for years to find a way to weave music into my writing, but it’s really really hard. I realized the only way I was going to be able to include music in the story was to make music a character itself and include it in everything. Since St. Louis has always been a music town (and since music really was part of everything I experienced there) this seemed like a unique opportunity in telling this story.
Also, it was from spending all that time in a record store that I learned how music can be one of the few places where bridges can be built across white supremacy. That’s not to say that there isn’t systemic racism within the music industry (it’s there too). Music creates conversation – for instance when two very different people really love the same song – that can create understanding and empathy in ways that not much else can.
What do you hope readers take away from the book?
I want readers to find themselves, or people they know, or songs that they love, or ways that they’ve felt – for better or worse – in the book. I also hope to address the lack of white writers who are writing about racism. White people are the ones who created racism – so in fact, we’re the experts. However, so few white writers write about it. Ironically, fiction has always been an important way that we tell ourselves the truth. And it’s also tool in creating, as Marley Dias said, windows and mirrors. It’s time for white writers to create the mirrors in which white readers can take a long hard look at ourselves. Then maybe we can start having real conversations and focusing on how to go about making real change.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mathea Morais grew up in St. Louis and earned a degree in Literature from NYU. She began her career writing about hip hop culture and music for The Source and Trace Urban Magazine. Her work has gone on to appear in The New Engagement, Slush Pile Magazine, Arts & Ideas, and Anti-Heroin Chic. She is the Director of the Noepe Center for Literary Arts on Martha’s Vineyard and has taught creative writing to children and young adults for over fifteen years. She lives with her husband, her three daughters, and a beloved dog.
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