D'aron Davenport feels like a catfish out of his pond when he leaves his Georgia town of about 700 people to go to school in Berkeley, Calif. But within just a few months, it's his hometown that becomes a little hard to understand in his own, changed eyes.
He brings three Berkeley friends from diverse backgrounds back home to Georgia, where they decide to stage a mock lynching during a Civil War reenactment — and it proves to be a bit too close to real history. D'aron is the creation of T. Geronimo Johnson, a visiting professor at the Iowa Writer's Workshop and author of the previously praised novel, Hold It 'Til It Hurts.
The new novel is Welcome toBraggsville, and Johnson tells NPR's Scott Simon that D'aron's not trying to cause a huge disruption in his home town, "but once he nears home, he starts to feel as though having this particular menagerie — as he thinks of it — with him establishes him as being significantly more cosmopolitan that the folks that he grew up with."
On D'aron's plan for the reenactment event
So D'aron and his three friends who dub themselves the "Four Little Indians" intend to stage a mock lynching at the Civil War reenactment, and two of them go through with it. And the two that go through with it are Candice, who's white, and Louis, who is Asian. So Louis puts on a muscle suit and an Afro wig and covers his face with black shoe polish and then straps himself into a harness and they hang him from a tree and wait for the soldiers to arrive.
On whether this is an important statement, or a lark
You know, that's a question that came up very early when I was working on the book, and I never thought of it as a lark. From my point of view as the writer, I wanted to deal with four kids who are a bit uncertain about the world. They are questioning their received knowledge and they have the best of intents. Even though they may not make the wisest decisions, their motivations are indeed well meaning and noble.
On generational differences on questions of race, identity, and ethnicity
When I watch the kids in undergrad hang out and socialize and move through space, they seem to do so with a greater ease between the races. I don't necessarily notice the same kind of anxieties that were around when I was in college with this generation that were talking about, but then I always remember that I'm not actually one of them, so I don't know what it's like to be on the inside. But on the outside, especially on a lot of the college campuses and in places like Berkeley, I see a lot of Gen-Yers who are amazingly dedicated and committed to making this country a better place and I find it heartening.