'1996': Under the Watchful Eye of the Government

Ed Gordon talks with writer Gloria Naylor about her latest novel 1996, a fictionalized memoir about Naylor's experience under government surveillance.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

ED GORDON, host:

Novelist Gloria Naylor is best known for writing critically-acclaimed, African-American literature, including the Women of Brewster Place. However, Naylor's latest offering falls into that ambiguous category some call fictionalized memoir. Once more, this somewhat true personal story is centered around Naylor's conspiracy theories about government surveillence and mind control. The book is titled 1996. That's the year it first became apparent to Naylor that she was being spied on.

Ms. GLORIA NAYLOR (Author): Since many of these things did happen to the real Gloria Naylor, by using myself as a protagonist, I was able to have the book act partly as a catharsis. Basically, what 1996 is about, it's about our loss of privacy in this country, that the government has moved well beyond just the simple following of people, and the tapping of their phones. But they now have technology that is able to decode the brain patterns, and to detect what people are actually thinking. And they have another technology called microwave hearing, where they can actually input words into your head, bypassing your ears.

Now, these are both, both of these technologies are documented, and people have patents for part of the process. So, what I wanted to do in 1996 was to say to my fellow Americans, is that we have to be vigilant about any attacks on our civil liberties, even innocuous attacks, because they can snowball and lead to other things.

GORDON: Now, we should know the book is centered around an island off of South Carolina, where you go to enjoy there, and write, and tend to a garden. And then, as the account of the book suggests, your tranquility is ruined.

Ms. NAYLOR: I realize at one point, that I was being followed, and then I began to see the surveillance that was going past the road on my house. And so, these cars began to surveil me. People began to follow me around, and it did, it was very disrupting to think that your privacy was being violated, and for no reason that I could come up with. Since I'm not, basically, a political writer, I'm a fiction writer, for the most part. And so, I just didn't, I didn't understand it. I knew about CoIntel Pro, which is because I'm African-American, and in those years, the FBI did many shameful things to disrupt black nationalist organizations. But since I wasn't a part of any of that, I thought that I would be immune, basically, from the government having any interest in me.

GORDON: But let me play devil's advocate, Gloria. There are going to be people who are going to say, just based on what you just said, why would the government follow you? What interest would they have? Etcetera, etcetera. Here's a woman who's just simply, underline, paranoid.

Ms. NAYLOR: Well, what I can say to them is this: it's the same thing that happens when a child is abused by a trusted adult. Now, that child will go to some parents and tell them these things. They will be believed by some of the parents. Some of the parents will never believe that Uncle George could be doing these things to their little girl. So, it's either that you're gonna believe me, or you're not going to believe me, and I couldn't worry about that. I worried about it a little bit, Ed, to be truthful with you.

GORDON: Mm-hmm.

Ms. NAYLOR: That people would think, well, she just had a nervous breakdown. But when I really sat and thought about for a long time, I realized I can't worry about what reception this news is going to be received in. I wrote what I felt I had to write, and I'm willing to put my own sanity and my reputation behind it.

GORDON: And why you?

Ms. NAYLOR: I have no idea why me.

GORDON: Mm-hmm.

Ms. NAYLOR: I think I just ran into the wrong people at the wrong time, and like the book shows, what starts from a very innocent dispute with a neighbor cascades and cascades and cascades into a whole production.

GORDON: Gloria, let me get your thought when, a couple of weeks ago, you saw the headline, like most of us did, about the White House, and the tapping of American citizens.

Ms. NAYLOR: Yeah, yeah.

GORDON: With this book, you must have not been surprised, but I would think you, it caused you to sit straight up.

Ms. NAYLOR: I was surprised that it even came out. And like the New York Times themselves admitted, they sat on the story for a whole year. And that's part of why we don't know the truth of many of these black operations that go on. And because of one, the patriotism of some people in the news media, because of the improbability that you would be believed if you became a whistle-blower, all of that lets these abuses flourish. The intelligence community, for the most part, has not accountability at all; to the Congress, to us the American people, and so they feel that they above the law. And every blue moon, something likes this Times Manifesto will come out, and people will say to themselves, my God, I had no idea that's going on.

What I believe is that a lot more than that is going on. This is just the tip of the iceberg that happened to get exposed.

GORDON: Fiction writer Gloria Naylor, her latest book is titled 1996.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.