Kerry Washington shares her journey of self-discovery in 'Thicker than Water' Washington was an adult when she learned that she had been conceived via artificial insemination and the man she considered her father was not her biological dad. Her new memoir is Thicker than Water.

How a DNA test inspired actress-activist Kerry Washington's journey of self-discovery

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This is FRESH AIR. I'm Tonya Mosley.

Five years ago, in 2018, actor, producer and activist Kerry Washington had an opportunity to appear on the popular PBS series "Finding Your Roots" with Henry Louis Gates. It was a dream for Washington to learn more about her ancestors, and at first, her parents were excited, too. But when they learned the show would need to examine their DNA, it set off a cascade of events leading to revelations about Kerry's origins.

In her new memoir, Kerry Washington takes us on a journey of self-discovery. She takes us through her life growing up in the Bronx as the only child of Valerie and Earl Washington, her acting career and activism. Washington is known for her role as Olivia Pope in the hit series "Scandal," which ran for seven seasons on ABC. She also starred as Mia Warren in the Hulu series "Little Fires Everywhere" - both shows receiving Emmy nominations. Washington also portrayed Anita Hill in HBO's "Confirmation." In her latest role in the Hulu series "UnPrisoned," Washington plays Paige Alexander, a therapist and single mom whose fresh-out-of-prison dad, played by Delroy Lindo, moves in with her and her teenage son.

The name of Kerry Washington's new memoir is "Thicker Than Water." Kerry, welcome back to FRESH AIR.


MOSLEY: Let's get into the revelation that they shared with you. So this opportunity to be on "Finding Your Roots" came at this right time in your life. "Scandal" was ending, and you were shedding the identity of Olivia Pope which had become so popular. And your parents were also initially excited at the idea of you being on "Finding Your Roots," too, until they found out that they needed to share their DNA. Your parents finally sat down and shared something that they'd been withholding your entire life. What did they share?

WASHINGTON: So for anybody who's listening who wants to not know when you're reading the book - as you said, there's lots of revelations, but this is the big one. So if you want to tune us out and relisten...

MOSLEY: Now's the time. Yeah.

WASHINGTON: ...After you read the book, now's your moment. But my parents shared with me that my dad, my beloved dad, is not my biological father and that I was born from a sperm donor at a time in the '70s where there were no sperm banks. There were no - you know, so many of my girlfriends now, we go through catalogs of, you know, who we want the sperm to come from, from eye color to academic degrees, but this was cloaked in a lot of secrecy and a spirit of experimentalism. It was, like, a new procedure that not a lot of people were do (ph). It was considered risky and important to remain secret. And so that's what my parents did. I - you know, I was a very, very prayed-for, wanted, loved child, and they went to any lengths to have me, and so...

MOSLEY: What you're saying there is important, though - an important point to make about the time period. As you mentioned, now artificial insemination is such a common thing. IVF is a common thing. But back then, it wasn't.

WASHINGTON: No. It was very uncommon. It was not talked about. There were only a handful of doctors in Manhattan who were willing to take on the procedure. My mother's OB-GYN was one of them. And, you know, he said to them, you have two options. You know, having sort of examined both of my parents, again, after five long years of trying, he said, you have two options. You can either adopt, or we can try this new thing called artificial insemination. And it's very experimental, and the - you know, it's not 100% guarantee, but we can give it a go and see if it works.

MOSLEY: Your father, Earl - there was this feeling, though, that you still could be his biological daughter because the doctor also suggested something else. So there was the procedure, but also, in conjunction with the procedure, he recommended your mom and dad go and try the the natural way, too.

WASHINGTON: Right, that they have intercourse, which was very common at the time. I mean, number one, when you engage in intercourse, it does ready a woman's body to conceive in a different way, right? So doctors will often say, even now, that it's not a bad idea to have intercourse after artificial insemination. So weird to be talking about my parents in this way...

MOSLEY: I know.

WASHINGTON: ...And their bedroom culture. But also, it allowed, at the time, a level of plausible deniability, right? No one in 1977 thought, well, we'll be able to go and do a DNA test in 40 years and know exactly where she comes from. They thought, you know, do this procedure. Go home and have sex, and then forget about it. Like, the kid is yours. It's yours. And so that's what my parents did. And my dad very much adopted the reality that I am his and he is mine. That plausible deniability, I think, in many ways, became his absolute reality.

MOSLEY: You were born and raised in the Bronx. You were the only child of your parents. You lived this middle-class life. You attended great schools. You were part of a vibrant community. But way before this opportunity to be on "Finding Your Roots" and then this revelation from your parents, you had this faint sense that something was being withheld from you, and this feeling impacted your very being from a very young age. This is one of the most powerful parts of the book, is your ability to articulate how you felt that they kept you at arm's length.

WASHINGTON: It's funny because it's one of the things that - you know, when I got this news, I started to do deep dives of reading every article, every book about kids who were born from donor eggs or donor sperm or adopted and not told - like, just kids whose origins had been - mostly lovingly, but kept from them. And the thing that I identified with so much was this sense of unease, this sense that something is being kept from me, and I don't know what it is, or something is wrong, and I don't know what it is. And

like a lot of kids and a lot of other people in this experience, I decided that something wrong, often, was me - that I must have been not good enough, not lovable enough - that this gap between myself and my parents, which was a gap that could be designated to the fact of my inception, became this vague notion that I translated into emotional distance.

And that may have been emotional distance, you know? Sometimes I think about how I've had girlfriends throughout my life who would say, like, my mother's my best friend, and we talk every day. And I've always been close to my mother, and, I mean, since the revelation, we're even more close. I am deeply, deeply, deeply grateful for what our relationship looks like today. And we do talk so much more than we used to. But I didn't grow up feeling that kind of deep emotional transparency and intimacy with my mother. But looking back, I think, how could I have? She was keeping a secret from me that she could not reveal. So you can't be best friends with someone who you cannot tell the truth to.

MOSLEY: Right. There was even hesitation in telling you your origin story. When you would do that thing that young kids do, when they ask their moms and dads, oh, yeah, tell me about the day I was born, your mother would often - she would pause. She would be skeptical. Now you know what that is.


MOSLEY: Yeah. You know, the other powerful part of this is that it - you articulate in the book that withholding secrets - you know, what that can do to a child's sense of self. I think so many of us believe our children don't notice if we are pretending or withholding. And so, for you, what that turned into - you just knew you needed to be perfect. How did that perfectionism exhibit itself? - because you felt like you needed to be perfect to win their love. Whatever they were withholding, maybe that would be released the better you were, the more perfect you were.

WASHINGTON: Yeah. I also felt like the troubles they were having in their marriage must have somehow been my fault, which a lot of kids say to themselves.

MOSLEY: Because they argued a lot.

WASHINGTON: Right. And at least in that period of my childhood, they argued a lot. And so, yeah, in order to receive their love, and in order to try to maintain the love between them, I thought I needed to be perfect, as you describe, which, of course, is impossible. And so there was always this sense that I needed to do better and be better and do more and have more and achieve more. And it's crazy now, you know, because I think that notion of hyperperformance, hypervigilance, perfectionism, like, those things have served me in a lot of ways in my career and in my life. But they've also been really tremendously problematic and painful to navigate.

MOSLEY: Let's take a short break. If you're just joining us, our guest is actor, producer and activist Kerry Washington. She's written a new memoir about her life titled "Thicker Than Water." We'll continue our conversation after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.


MOSLEY: This is FRESH AIR. And today, we're talking to actor, producer and activist Kerry Washington. She's written a new memoir titled "Thicker Than Water." This year, she starred opposite Delroy Lindo in the Hulu series "Unprisoned." Washington is known for her role as Olivia Pope in the hit series "Scandal," which ran for seven seasons. She also starred as Mia Warren in the Hulu miniseries "Little Fires Everywhere," and portrayed Anita Hill in HBO's "Confirmation."

You know, acting played this pivotal role for you from the moment you were a young girl. I think sixth grade is when you discovered acting, participating in school plays.

WASHINGTON: Younger. Much younger. Yeah.

MOSLEY: Even younger than that?

WASHINGTON: Yeah. I would say 5 or 6 years old, probably.

MOSLEY: It sustained you because it allowed you to live through these characters that you were playing. Do you remember the first time you felt that feeling on stage that you were almost in a way living, but living through another character, another person?

WASHINGTON: So I remember just the joy of being on stage and forgetting my real life. I loved to be on stage because when I was on stage, it required a level of focus that necessitated the day-to-day life to fall away. And I loved that. I mean, I remember feeling that way at 7 years old, 8 years old. Like, really young. I loved being able to get on stage and have the reality of the musical - whether it was "Annie" or "The Velveteen Rabbit" or the - or "Pinocchio," right? Like, that those shows became my reality, and I didn't have to deal with some of the other more painful thoughts or feelings that I was dealing with on a day-to-day basis at home or at school.

So that was, for me, how theater started to save me was it really just gave me this respite, this place where I could be of singular focus on the reality of the play. And it's funny as I talk about it, because I realize how similar that language is to how I described what my dad did, you know, when he got this information - go home, have sex, you'll have plausible deniability, and he made that deniability his truth, that I think I, similarly to my dad, although I am not biologically his daughter, I don't know whether it's nurture or whether - yeah, I don't know if it's learned or if just we have that in common separately. It's probably a combination of those ideas, but I, too, gravitate toward believing in alternate reality. I've made a career of it. This kind of escape into a world that's not true.

MOSLEY: But it's interesting, as you grew older and you started to choose roles for yourself, there were elements of you in all of the roles that you chose.

WASHINGTON: Yeah. Yeah. In a way, that astounds me. I mean, I - that was one of the fun things to write about in the book was how these different characters and the circumstances that they've been in have really been opportunities for me to express my unconscious at times.

MOSLEY: An example of that is, of course, elements of "Scandal," but they're - all throughout your career you were able to go back and look at movies - films that you were in, shows that you were in - and you see yourself.

WASHINGTON: Yeah. I call them my cues 'cause they felt like cues. Like, kind of like a clue, but more a prompt, right? Like, this is your moment to understand yourself more. And sometimes I could hear it, and it was such a gift 'cause it was, you know, I always learn so much from my characters that I'm able to weave back into my life. It's almost like reincarnation, but in this one lifetime that I get to learn their lessons and absorb them. But sometimes these cues I didn't quite understand because I didn't have this greater information.

MOSLEY: Like an example.

WASHINGTON: But looking back, they make sense.

MOSLEY: Yeah. Give us an example.

WASHINGTON: Yeah. Well, for example, I kept being invited into projects where women were really struggling with fertility. Films like "For Colored Girls" and "Mother And Child," where again and again, I was playing women who desperately wanted to be - a woman who desperately wanted to be a mom and who struggled with that truth. "She Hate Me," I played a woman who sold sperm to the entire, like, New York lesbian community and, like, took sperm from my boyfriend and with artificial insemination, became a mom. So I had all these projects that were surfacing these themes and these issues as if God, the universe, you know, creator, was saying, like, dig deep here, you know? Talk about this, explore this. There's something for you to discover about yourself in this material. The other reality that occurs to me, though, as I talk about these characters, these women who've struggled with fertility is that these issues are so common, and that part of why the themes of fertility and family planning kept showing up in the work is because it's such a through line of most women's lives, whether we become mothers or don't become mothers.

MOSLEY: But we never talk about that.

WASHINGTON: That's right. And so that for me is one of the things that I feel so grateful for in the opportunity of writing this book is that I talk about my mother's family planning and reproductive life, but I also talk about my own family planning and reproductive life. And I want us to know that we can talk about these things, that we can be sharing these journeys with each other now more than ever, especially in this climate of our reproductive rights being under such extraordinary attack and assault.

So it is - you know, I think there are obviously parts of this story that are somewhat unique to my family. But there's also just the reality that these are so much of the themes and issues that women - that all of us as women are dealing with. And I feel really lucky that I get to be part of the conversation and encourage the conversation.

MOSLEY: You attended the Spence School in New York, which is an elite, private, all-girls school. And I've heard you tell this story many times. You mentioned that Gwyneth Paltrow also attended Spence. The experience at Spence allowed you to see wealth up close in a way that you hadn't before. And I find it interesting that you've said that, that level of wealth and affluence, seeing it made you angry in a way because it almost felt like another secret.

WASHINGTON: That's right. It's funny because when we were filming "Little Fires," there was this moment where the beautiful actress Lexi Underwood, who plays my daughter, walks into Reese Witherspoon's character's home for the first time. And some of my co-producers on set were saying, when she walks in, she should be awed and delighted at the magic of this perfect home versus her home. And I realized, oh, I have to explain this other dynamic, which is, why do some people get to live this way and other people don't? Because I was awed and enamored with the material wealth that these families had, but I also felt this very clear injustice that I was witnessing. I felt the pain of that injustice. And I felt angry that there were people who were living this way.

And I couldn't have even imagined elevator doors opening up into an apartment, you know? Where I came from, elevator doors opened and there were, like, 12 apartments. And that's what an apartment building was. But for an elevator door to open up into one apartment that takes the entire floor felt obscene in some ways. And so from a very young age, at 12 years old, I was grappling with the parts of my brain that thought that was aspirational and inspiring and the parts of my brain that thought that was awful and unfair and unjust.

MOSLEY: You were acting for several years by the time you started attending Spence. As you mentioned, you started acting at, like, 5 years old. But you write about a visit to a casting director, an agent, Juliet Taylor (ph), who you were introduced to by someone from Spence. And this casting director was very enamored by you. And you write that, quote, "I may have been a Black girl from the Bronx, but I was also attending one of the most elite educational institutions in the country."

Can you describe that feeling of knowing, even at that age, that you are not exactly one of them? You weren't affluent and white, but as you put it, you knew you were an exceptional delight. How did knowing you were exceptional in wealthy white people's eyes, how did that impact your desire to be perfect?

WASHINGTON: I don't know that I've ever asked about that direct connection before, but it's something that I live with all the time, as I imagine you do as well in certain circumstances. I guess the first word that pops into my mind is pressure - that when we as marginalized folks get invited into rooms as the exception, as the only, as the first, as the one of just a few, there is a pressure to be able to meet the space, to meet the requirements and the cultural expectations of the spaces that we're being invited into, and also to represent the spaces that we originate from with as much dignity, grace and success as possible. So I do think that idea of being exceptional did reinforce this pattern and drive toward perfectionism that had been planted earlier on.

MOSLEY: Our guest today is producer, activist and actor Kerry Washington. She's written a new memoir titled "Thicker Than Water." We'll be right back. I'm Tonya Mosley and this is FRESH AIR.


MOSLEY: This is FRESH AIR. And today we're talking to actor, producer and activist Kerry Washington. She's written a new memoir titled "Thicker Than Water." This year, she starred opposite Delroy Lindo in the Hulu series "UnPrisoned." Washington is known for her role as Olivia Pope in the hit series "Scandal," which ran for seven seasons. She also starred as Mia Warren in the Hulu miniseries "Little Fires Everywhere" and portrayed Anita Hill in HBO's "Confirmation."

The series "Scandal," it ran for several years, from 2012 to 2018. You talk about how Olivia Pope's character meant so much in your own personal development, but how difficult is it to shed that identity of a character like Olivia? I'm sure even to this day, you walk down the street, and people are like, "Scandal."

WASHINGTON: Yeah. I mean, how is it - how hard is it to shed in terms of people's perception of me, or how hard is she to shed internally?

MOSLEY: You know, that's a great question. Both. I mean, do they work hand in hand? I mean, is the reminder of her to you something that you have to work through? Or you do - do you just accept it as, this is a gift that people see me in this character?

WASHINGTON: I'm trying to talk about this delicately in the context of our strike, so I'm not encouraging anybody to go watch struck material. But I do want to talk about kind of my life and how it engages with hers.

MOSLEY: And thank you for bringing that up because the Writers Guild and SAG-AFTRA, they're still on strike, and as part of that, there's solidarity in talking about previous projects as well as current ones.

WASHINGTON: Right. So I'm really grateful for how my life has changed because of the privilege and opportunity I had to play that character because I know how hard it is for actors. I've been a struggling actor. I've been a starving artist. I know what the odds are against any actor to be able to, quote-unquote, "make it." I know how hard it is just to make a living as an actor, never mind, you know, being one of the few that get to be at the top of the call sheet and the top of the game.

So I'm really grateful for how that show transformed my career and my capacity to create work in this business. You know, it was really the success of that show that led me to other opportunities as a producer, so to have the production company that I have now, Simpson Street, which is named after the street in the Bronx that my mother grew up on. And I just feel so lucky. I feel so, so crazy, crazy lucky. And then in terms of my internal life, you know, she lives with me.

I'm very clear on the myriad of ways that she and I are very, very different - a lot of them having to do with personal life, right? I think I have an extremely different personal life. But there are ways that she changed me. She taught me how to be more of a leader. She taught me how to seek the truth even more than I already was oriented toward. She taught me so much about family and so much about narrative and so much about fearlessness and resilience. And so, you know, she lives in me.

MOSLEY: Olivia Pope meant so much to so many people. You actually write about the moment in 2016 when she was trending on Twitter. It was November 9, the day after Donald Trump was elected as president, and people were writing, Olivia Pope, you have to fix this - because, you know, of course she's a fixer. This made you sick to your stomach. But it also brings us back to something else that you were a part of during the first writers strike back in the 2000s, where you worked on the campaign trail on behalf of Barack Obama. And you were really involved. You were speaking at community centers and hair salons. Like, you were out on the campaign trail.

WASHINGTON: It was. I stumped in, I think, 16 states. Yeah. I was very, very involved. And I hadn't planned to sort of give up my life and become a surrogate on the campaign. But I was supposed to start a film, and the writers strike happened, and the film got pushed, and I had nothing to do. I was in South Carolina for the Democratic debates, and I decided to jump in.

MOSLEY: Do you receive hate for that? - because, you know, a lot of people have strong opinions about whether actors should voice their political thoughts.

WASHINGTON: I think the challenge for me - because I started out as an activist in my adolescence, for me, it was never a question of, is it OK for me to have a voice as an actor? It was almost the opposite requirement for me. I had to remind myself as I got more and more successful that I should not silence myself now because I was reaching a certain place in my career. So I've always had people not think it's a good idea.

In particular, when I spoke at the Democratic convention in 2007, it elicited a ton of death threats. And, yeah, it was very scary. I had, you know, security teams from the studio, from Disney, sort of helping me, protecting me because it got very, very scary. And what I remember the campaign saying to me was, you know, a lot of people spoke at the convention, Kerry. And not everybody is receiving this kind of hate.

MOSLEY: Oh, really?

WASHINGTON: And part of that is because you are an actor. And so you do call a different level of attention. Like, your ability to capture eyeballs and ears is different. You have that gift. But also, part of it is because you were effective up there. You really moved people, and what you said really stayed with people. And so that's why they're coming for you. And I thought that was so helpful at the time because it reminded me that doing good doesn't always feel good, but it's not a reason to not do it.

MOSLEY: Let's take a short break. If you're just joining us, we're talking with actor, producer and activist Kerry Washington. She's written a new memoir titled "Thicker Than Water." We'll continue our conversation after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.

This is FRESH AIR, and today we're talking to actor, producer and activist Kerry Washington. She's written a new memoir titled "Thicker Than Water." This year, she starred opposite Delroy Lindo in the Hulu series "UnPrisoned." Washington is also known for her role as Olivia Pope in the hit series "Scandal," which ran for seven seasons on ABC. She also starred as Mia Warren in the Hulu miniseries "Little Fires Everywhere" and portrayed Anita Hill in HBO's "Confirmation."

I want to switch gears to talk a little bit about something else as it relates to your career in the public eye. You are considered maybe one of the most beautiful actors of our time. I think in 2013 you were ranked No. 2 in People magazine's 100 Most Beautiful People, which makes you chuckle.

WASHINGTON: (Laughter) Part of why it makes me laugh is because the year my daughter was born - so I don't think it was 2013, but the year my daughter was born, I was on Time magazine's Most Influential People. I was on People magazine's Most Beautiful People. The very week that the news of both of those titles came out, I was hiding in a hospital room trying to protect my daughter, my newborn, from anybody knowing that she had arrived. Like, that role of mother was the only thing that mattered to me in that moment. And I remember being, like, that's so nice to be told that I'm pretty and smart. What matters most now is this other human and protecting my family fiercely. So that's what made me chuckle, but...

MOSLEY: Well, I want to go to both places with you - first, that being fiercely protective of this family that you've created with your husband. And now you have several children, but you keep that really locked away in a way that is protective. But also, you being deemed one of the most beautiful actors of our time - but you never felt that way about yourself necessarily, especially about your weight and your body. I get the sense that that part of yourself maybe is also connected to your feelings of disconnection as a child to yourself.

WASHINGTON: I think that's absolutely true. I think, looking back, as I try to make sense of it all, which is - I think a great deal of why I entered the adventure of writing this book was to try to make sense of my life given this new information about myself. And when I think about it, you know, in many ways, my body must have been terrifying for my parents. Like, the reality of my genetics was such a threat to the truths that they were willing or unwilling to share.

MOSLEY: Just in the practical ways, like how you look.

WASHINGTON: Yes. That's right. You know, I talk in the book about the night of my birth and my dad being in the waiting room watching the final episode of "Roots" 'cause that's the night I was born, or it was - the night before I was born was the final episode of "Roots." And I do think my dad was unwilling to miss the episode of that historic television show because he loves movies, and he loves narrative, and he loves actors, and he loves a good story. But I also think there must have been some fear for him of maybe, if he hadn't yet bought into the plausible deniability as fact - maybe he was terrified about what that baby was going to look like. Maybe my mother was terrified about what the baby was going to look like. You know, the thing they said to the doctor was, please make the donor Black and please let him be healthy. But they had no factual proof of either of those things, so my very physical being was a threat to my parents, was scary. Again, this is my understanding of it - my language, not theirs.

MOSLEY: Have you been able to talk to them about this part of it, the story?

WASHINGTON: I have a little bit. I mean, the way my mom talks about it was that she just had so much hope and faith and trust in the doctor at the time.

MOSLEY: Has your father talked about it, too? - just in being able to see himself in you.

WASHINGTON: Being able to see himself in me? What do you mean?

MOSLEY: Well, there's so much fear wrapped up in just your physical. And, you know, I follow you all on Instagram, so I see the loving relationship that you all have. And as you mentioned, you both believe in magic and in storytelling. And so in that way, he sees himself in you. But then there is that physical part of it that - you know, I think you wrote in the book this was a secret that you had to reveal because there are people who would say to you things like, your child looks so much like their grandpa, or I see you in so-and-so. And so there are all...


MOSLEY: ...These little lies that, like, you - just by omission, you're not telling the whole truth.

WASHINGTON: Yeah. Three people I'm very close to - each of them - their very first reaction when I told them was, but your son looks so much like your dad. And I say, that's how the magic works. Like, that's part of the magic. And to me, it's also proof that I am his and that he is mine despite the genetics that say otherwise.

MOSLEY: You know, this book, above all else, as you have stated so well, is your journey to becoming a protagonist in your own story, putting the pieces of yourself together. And the book ends with you searching for your biological father. But it sounds like, more than that, this revelation has opened up a portal of real connection, a deeper connection, even more than you had before, with your parents. This was a relief for them.

WASHINGTON: Yeah, I think there's - I'm watching my mother, you know, in particular, as I talk about in the book, having survived this round of cancer and with the revelations being shared publicly. She is - she's such an inspiration to me because she is just so light and free and, like, in her truth and in her body. And I can tell that she has been able to let go of not only a secret that she's held on to for four decades, but all the shame around that secret and the guardedness around it.

And my dad, too - like, it's a very different journey for him - different and difficult in different ways. But as I say in the book, you know, one of the things that occurred to me when I learned this truth is that every time I've ever told my dad that I love him, it has always been on the condition of a lie. And so consciously or unconsciously, there must have been some part of him that thought she loves me because she thinks I am her dad.

MOSLEY: And if she knew that I wasn't, maybe...

WASHINGTON: That's right.

MOSLEY: ...She wouldn't feel this way. Yeah.

WASHINGTON: And so I have now gotten the opportunity to love my dad unconditionally. And he has had the opportunity to feel what it feels like to be loved in vulnerability. And there is - I can't even begin to articulate the value of that in our relationship and in our family.

MOSLEY: Have you been able to make any progress in finding your biological father?

KEVIN WHITEHEAD, BYLINE: So I don't know who the donor is still. And I don't - it's funny, I don't often refer to him as my biological father although, I guess, in scientific terms, that's what he is. But I very much think of him as the donor. And I don't know who he is. I am excited to learn more about who he is.

MOSLEY: Because you've been searching.

WASHINGTON: Yeah, I have a really esteemed team on the job. And I do think that I'll find him at some point because I really do have the very best people in the business, and I don't know what that will be, you know? There's so much unknown, as I express in the book, you know? I say in the book, I wonder if he's alive or not. I wonder if he's - you know, what he looks like or where he lives. Or, you know, I don't - because there was no fancy catalog, there were no sperm banks at the time, I don't know if he was the one Black member at the country club where the doctor worked or if he was the janitor at the hospital, or if he was a medical student. Or if he was - I just have no idea.

MOSLEY: And do you know what you want once you receive it, once you know? Is it just the knowing or is there a connection that you want?

WASHINGTON: I just want the truth.


WASHINGTON: So I want to know the who, what, where. And then I want the connection to be whatever it's supposed to be. I'm not interested in forcing it into being something, but I'm open to it being a lot of different kinds of things. And I know that my dad will remain my dad.

MOSLEY: Kerry Washington, thank you so much for this book. Thank you for this conversation. It's been wonderful. Thank you.

WASHINGTON: Likewise. Thank you so much.

MOSLEY: Kerry Washington is an award-winning actor, producer and activist. Her new memoir is titled "Thicker Than Water." Coming up, jazz critic Kevin Whitehead's portrait of jazz composer and multi-instrumentalist Sam Rivers. This is FRESH AIR.


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