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‘There Will Be No Miracles Here’ author Casey Gerald answers your questions

Casey Gerald, author of our December pick for the NewsHour-New York Times book club, Now Read This, joins Jeffrey Brown to answer reader questions on “There Will Be No Miracles Here,” and Jeff announces the January book selection.

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  • William Brangham:

    And Jeffrey has one more for us tonight.

    Here's our latest Now Read This book club conversation that he recorded before the holiday.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Attaining and questioning the American dream. Our December book club pick is a memoir in which a young man makes his way through many different worlds, from blighted neighborhoods, the evangelical church and college football, to the highest levels of academia, Wall Street and Washington.

    It's called "There Will Be No Miracles Here." Author Casey Gerald joins us now from Los Angeles to answer some of the questions our readers sent in.

    Casey, thanks for joining us for our book club.

  • Casey Gerald:

    Thank you so much for having me.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    All right, let's go to the first question, because it really does go to this idea of a personal journey. Let's take a look.

  • Roopa Chauhan:

    You have a wonderfully rich perspective on your personal journey. My question relates to how you gained this perspective. Was it through the writing process itself? And what would be your advice to someone who would like to achieve the same kind of perspective on his or her own personal journey?

  • Casey Gerald:

    It's a great question.

    I think of what Toni Morrison used to tell her students. She said, don't write what you know, because you don't know nothing.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Casey Gerald:

    A lot of people might see that as a warning against personal narrative. I think it's an invitation to personal narrative.

    So much of the stuff in this book, I did not know before I began it. Take, for example, my mother. My mother suffered from mental illness and disappeared when I was 13. But until I wrote the book, I thought she disappeared when I was 12.

    And it was actually really traumatic at first to discover that the most important thing that ever happened to me, I didn't actually understand it or know the full details of it.

    But leaning into that work, which, honestly, took a great deal of bourbon and revision and time sort of sifting through the sort of particles of memory and trying to bring language to that.

    So, the biggest advice I have is, one, don't push yourself without some type of support system for dealing with traumatic memories and experiences. I would not advise that.

    But I have learned and believe that, if you face the things you have been through, you can begin to heal from them. And that has for sure been the case for me with this book.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    I mentioned in the introduction that term American dream, which you're certainly exploring and attaining and then questioning.

    So much of the book is sort of about not only who we are, but how we're seen.

    Our next question goes to that.

  • Callum Bailey:

    You are eager to shed the mantle of being the son of Rod Gerald or the next Barack Obama, but recoil from becoming a misleading symbol of the American dream.

    If you control the symbol that Casey Gerald represented, what would you have him represent?

  • Casey Gerald:

    I write in the book that symbol is the world's loneliest job.

    And, after that passage, which those of you who have read the book might have seen, I write in handwritten — my own handwriting, I write in the book, I have something to tell you while there's still time.

    So a lot of people show up to memoir expecting for somebody to give them all the answers. What I actually am trying to do is get you to trust the small me, the human me, not to see me as a symbol, but to see me as a human being.

    And I think that actually is something that we all deserve to be, not things, but people.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Explain what you mean by the symbol, the — that you were seen as, and that you then had to question.

  • Casey Gerald:

    Yes.

    Well, it goes to a poster that was made when I was recruited at 18 to go off and play football at Yale from my high school in Oak Cliff, Texas. So when I went off to Yale, Dallas Independent School District put posters in all the schools that said, look who's going to Yale, he did it, and you can too.

    And it took me a long time to see the ways that I was used as sort of this symbol of the American dream, as you as you might call it. And I write in the book and so much of the intervention of the book is to show that this American dream deal is a fantasy. It's a myth. It's a distraction.

    You take a poor, black, queer kid, damn near orphan, from Oak Cliff, Texas, you send him off to Yale and Harvard and Wall Street and Washington, put him on the cover of magazine, whatever, and it distracts us from the fact that there is a conveyor belt leading most young people from neighborhoods like mine from nothing to nowhere, while picking off the chosen few, like me.

    So what I'm trying to do with this book, when I say it's an intervention, it is to try to get us not so much to stop believing in dreams and miracles and all that kind of stuff, but to really focus on the American reality, and to say that one Casey Gerald does not just defied the suffering of millions of children.

    And we can build a country, a society, and we can build lives that are more humane, that are nobler, that are kinder, that are gentler, that don't leave 13 million children without food to eat, or one in 30 children without a place to live.

    I think that's, at base, what I'm trying to do with this book, obviously do very personal work, but tied to this larger political project we need to be a part of.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    All right, we have got one more question that actually goes right to that.

  • Jim Hession:

    You write that the American dream is false, and that there is no savior coming. So, where do we go from here? What's next for you? And what's next for us?

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Well, there's a big question, huh?

  • Casey Gerald:

    There we go, a lot of big questions.

    Well, I don't write, that I know of, that there's no savior coming. So, anything is possible, I suppose.

    But people ask me all the time, where do we go from here? And my question in return is where's here? There's no GPS in the world that can lead you to a destination without knowing your current location. So, a lot of people read this book and they say, when I read it, I didn't feel that I was reading a memoir. I felt that I was reading a history of America.

    And I think what — if I have done my job well, what I have done with this book is to help us understand how we got here and where we are. And my hope is that we go to a place that is whole, that is free.

    Rather than a place that is trying to make America great again, I think we ought to try to make our lives and our country whole and free for the first time.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    All right, the book is "There Will Be No Miracles Here."

    Casey Gerald, thank you very much for joining us.

  • Casey Gerald:

    Thank you very much.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    And, before we go, let me announce our pick to start off the new year with a twist. A doctor looks at matters of the heart, his own and all of ours, in a very new way, from bodily plumbing to human love.

  • It’s called “Heart:

    A History" by Sandeep Jauhar.

    As always, we will have plenty of material for you about the book and author. And we hope you will read along and join the discussion on our Facebook page for the Now Read This book club, a partnership with The New York Times.

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