On Sunday, February 15th, the Politics for the People book club spent an hour talking with Jerome Charyn about his book, I Am Abraham. I am sharing a few excerpts and you can listen to the entire conversation at the end of this post. (Note: if the audio links do not appear in the email version of this post, just click on the email to come to the blog.)
Our first audio clip includes my introduction of Jerome and an exploration of how Jerome decided to write the novel and find Lincoln’s voice. This section ends with a fascinating conversation between Jerome and Dr. Omar Ali about history, facts and fiction. Give a listen.
Dr. Jessie Fields asked Jerome Charyn how he made the choice to put the assassination of Lincoln in the preface of the book.
In his response, Jerome shared, “I knew that I wanted to end the novel in Richmond because I thought it was the most important day in Lincoln’s life. Here was the conqueror coming to the conquered people, not as a conqueror, but as someone who was a peace maker…”
Jessica Marta asked : “You pay a lot of attention, in the book, to Mary Todd Lincoln’s decent into madness… I was wondering why you made that choice?”
Jerome responded: “Well, what I wanted to do was show that women in the 19th Century had so few choices. For example, she was much better educated than any of the men around her, certainly much better educated than her husband. But she could not enter public life in any fashion at all. And he never would have become president without her. She was his general… But as soon as he inhabited the White House, he sort of thrust her to the side… You take a very intelligent woman with a very political point of view and you give her nothing to do… she begins scheming. What I wanted to do was try to deal with her madness with as much sympathy as I could.”
The conversation explored much about the author’s writing process. At one point Warren Liebesman asked Jerome to talk about how he developed the deeply evocative and poetic voice in the book. Jerome talked with us the story of the last line of the book as one example. “You don’t know where it comes from and that’s what’s so perverse. For example, if you look at the very last sentence of the book…”
I piped in: “Is it? … and I held him as close as I could?”
Below is the full recording of our P4P conversation
with Jerome Charyn.