In the new paperback edition of I Am Abraham: A Novel of Lincoln and the Civil War, there is a Reading Group Guide in the form of a rich conversation with the author. Jerome has given me permission to share the guide with you, which I think will enhance our reading and be a wonderful prelude to our conference call on February 15th.
The guide has 13 questions. Today’s post will share the first two.
These two opening questions and Jerome Charyn’s responses speak to some of what June Hirsh writes about in her post yesterday—about getting to know Jerome through reading his wonderful novel of Lincoln.
Reading Group Guide Excerpt
How did you decide to write I Am Abraham in Lincoln’s own voice?
It was an impossible task, and I needed to attempt the impossible. I needed to be on a tightrope ready to fall. [When I wrote The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson] it was much easier to find the music of Emily Dickinson’s voice, not only because we have her poems, but [because] we have those extraordinary letters where she assumes so many masks. She can be Scarlett O’Hara, or Cleopatra, or a total witch in the same sentence. I didn’t have the same luxury with Lincoln. I had to invent the voice, from his speeches, from letters we have, and from the tall tales that he told. But somehow from the start, I always had Huck Finn in mind, and I thought, what would Huck Finn sound like when he grew up? And that’s how I dreamt my way into Lincoln’s voice.
Was Lincoln’s depression important to you?
Lincoln had two serious bouts of depression during his life–at least two times that we can confirm. The first followed the death of Anne Rutledge and the second came after he “jilted” Mary Todd, and these depressions were a way for me to enter the novel and also a key to unlock his voice. But, as novelist Jay Neugeboren said to me during a debate at a Manhattan bookshop, I wasn’t really writing about Lincoln, I was writing about myself, and in a way I put on Lincoln’s beard and stovepipe hat and wandered into his White House, and I’ve never been able to wander out.
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