African-American writer Clifford Thompson was raised to believe in treating every person of every color as an individual—and he decided as a young man that America, despite its history of racial oppression, was his home as much as anyone else’s. Thompson joins us for a heartfelt livestream conversation exploring the war between the values he has always held and the reality with which he is confronted in twenty-first-century America.
In conversation with journalist Adam Shatz, Thompson presents thoughts from his book What It Is: Race, Family, and One Thinking Black Man’s Blues, offering a powerful framework for navigating race in America, carrying on the tradition of James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time and Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me. As a middle-aged, happily married father of biracial children, Thompson finds himself questioning his most deeply held convictions when the race-baiting Donald Trump ascends to the presidency—elected by whites, whom Thompson had refused to judge as a group, and who make up the majority in this country Thompson had called his own. He reflects on the wisdom of the writers he admires, and grapples with the understanding that the answers to his questions about America ultimately lie in America itself. Tune in for perspectives from an acclaimed writer in the grip of contradictory emotions—trying to find his own answers based not on conventional wisdom or on what he would like to believe, but on what he sees.
Clifford Thompson received a Whiting Writers’ Award for nonfiction in 2013 for Love for Sale and Other Essays. His personal essays and pieces on books, film, jazz, and American identity have found homes in publications including The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Village Voice, The Times Literary Supplement, and many others.
Adam Shatz is a contributing editor at The London Review of Books and a contributor to The New York Times Magazine, The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, and other publications.
Presented by Town Hall Seattle.