My way of dealing with rage is by putting it into a story. The injustices of our nation have long enraged me, and much of that feeling (as well as a good deal of inspiration and admiration) was fueled when I wrote my dissertation on post-1960s writers of color. But one seemingly normal day a few years ago, when I was walking through my neighborhood in Atlanta, I experienced a new, visceral feeling of outrage. I had noticed a conspicuous absence: so many of the modest houses of my working-class and retired black neighbors had been leveled, only to be replaced by white yuppies in mini-mansions. If I, as a white woman, was so enraged, how were my old neighbors feeling? I also felt complicit in the accelerating gentrification taking place all around me. Out of my feelings of guilt and anger, I imagined an embodiment of outrage, Benjamin Adams, a character whose blood and bones were comprised of it. As soon as I got home, I began writing “Bigger and Better.”
I gave my protagonist such an identifiably American name because I feel his story encapsulates America’s story. He is America; his struggles, fears, resentments, experiences are foundationally American. The frustration I feel at America’s lack of significant progress boiled over into Benjamin. I imagine my work as and hope that it is a stance of alliance with and an expression of compassion toward my friends and neighbors who continually get passed over, exiled, and exploited in the name of supposed progress. How close to justice is vengeance?