Wouldn’t it happen that as soon as I take a break from my International Lit Project, I read about two Africa/Detroit novels? The first was Broken Monsters by South African author Lauren Beukes and the second was Into The Go-Slow by Detroit native Bridgett Davis. I was unable to attend Beukes book event in September but I had Davis’ book reading at Signal Return firm in my calendar.
Into the Go-Slow, is a coming to age novel about Angie MacKenzie, a recent college graduate who has a difficult time recovering from the death of her sister, Ella. Ella, the rebellious but admired older sister, died while living in Lagos, Nigeria. The circumstances of her death are murky and the lack of closure leaves Angie unable to move on with her life. The story follows her journey from Detroit to Nigeria in the late 1980s as she seeks out her path/purpose in life. It’s a nice read and fun to be transported to ‘old Detroit’. Since I was born in late 1987 (the year most of the story takes place), I don’t have first hand memories of most of the places or event mentioned but some mentions like B.Dalton brought back old times.
The book reading at Signal Return was my first experience with such an event. It was a great crowd since many of Davis’ friends and family showed up in support. The post-read conversation was especially interesting and provided an extra layer for me to bring to the story when reading the novel. Into the Go-Slow isn’t autobiographical but it shares elements of Davis’ life. Like the main character, Davis lost her father, her sister died at a young age and she took a meaningful journey to Africa. The ties to her life contributed to the length of time it took Davis to finish the novel and her ability to feel comfortable with how she confronted the question: Who am I when the person I define myself against is gone?
Here are some highlights from the conversation….
‘Bridget’ & ‘Bridgette’
I really always wanted to move out in the world in a way I felt Detroit didn’t allow me, even though it gave me the foundation of who I am. My father had died months before I graduated [high school] and I was so close to him that it was traumatic. I thought the thing to do was leave behind everything that was heart-wrenching and sad and move on with my life. I decided that included my name because it was the way he said ‘Bridget’ that sometimes when I thought about it it broke my heart. Conveniently enough, I had an aunt who always called me ‘Bridgette’ and it sounded great and new and fresh. I decided I’m going to go to college and tell everybody that’s what my name is. And it worked. It worked beyond what I was planning and suddenly I was two people. Over the years it was confusing for a long time but now at this point in my life I feel like it’s exactly right because that’s who I am. I’m the ‘Bridget’ that this city created and nurtured and made into this person who could go out in the world and be ‘Bridgette’. So now I answer to both.
What It Means To Go-Slow
Into the Go-Slow this strange title, my editor was like, ‘Really, you want me to sell a book called Into the Go-Slow?’ but I was like ‘You cannot change that title’. Nigerians are extremely clever with language and that’s what they call traffic jams: ‘Leave four hours early cause of the go-slow.’ As I was thinking about the title of this book I realized I was trying to say something about a young woman who was stuck – like you’re stuck in traffic – who can’t seem to move forward and is going too slow with her life. Also the traffic in Lagos may not be moving forward but there’s nothing dead about it. It’s very active, kinetic and alive. Not just the fumes and the scooters and car horns but commerce is happening. Someone is going to come up and try to sell you a freshly killed chicken, a kitchen sink, a little key chain that says ‘I love Jesus.’ All that is happening while you are stuck there waiting. That’s a metaphor because if you’re stuck in life maybe the key isn’t to just get moving like people tell you. Sometimes you have to jump into the fray of what is crazy and frantic and maybe not even going anywhere but the key is to jump in and be there and deal and interact and have that connection so that when things start moving you’ll be part of that. And that’s how I looked at what my main character was going through.
On Being Tied To Detroit
An interviewer said to me ‘What’s with you and these book titles [Davis’ first book is Shifting Through Neutral] that are all around cars?’ and I’m like, ‘Remember I am from the Motor City’.
A 9 Year Process
People sometimes think, ‘Carve out two years and get that book done.’ You don’t finish that book until that book is ready to be done. More importantly, until you’re ready to be out in the world with it. Maybe three years ago I couldn’t sit here like this and that’s why I didn’t have the book finished. I say to people all the time, ‘Understand with whatever you’re doing – it takes the time it takes.’
On Being A Writer
Writing’s a job. Show up to it. That’s my attitude. I get up every morning so I can get that writing in before the rest of my family gets up. That’s my space, that’s my time. I believe that the muse will visit you if it knows where to find you. If you’re there everyday maybe the first month you don’t write anything but you’re there, you’re showing up, you’re saying this matters to me this is important this is valuable. And then you show up and suddenly the muse is like ok we’re here, come on let’s do this. I deeply believe in that consistency. It’s shows that it’s as important as other things in my life.
The Value Of The Written Word
My friend tells her students, ‘If you don’t think the things you’re writing in this course are as important as what students in med school are learning than you should not be here because writing saves lives.’ It saved my life. I’m sure most of you remember the book that changed things for you. I remember the book where I first saw myself in it and thought wow this is a world that validates what I am or maybe I just needed to escape in another world. So I take it seriously and I believe as a writer you have no choice but to take it seriously – then everyone around you does too.