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Chabon Talks Race and Early Columbia in WSJ Interview

'Columbia ... was an experiment.' - Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Chabon.

 

Michael Chabon, native son of Columbia and Pulitzer Prize-winning author, has a new novel due to be released in September called Telegraph Avenue.

In advance of the book, he talked to the Wall Street Journal about his Columbia roots and how they shine through in the new novel.

The novel is set in Berkeley, CA, in a world “where used jazz soul records are a form of currency, and where Blaxploitation stars make special appearances at sports-card conventions,” according to the WSJ description.

He told the newspaper the idea for the novel came from watching the O.J. Simpson verdict and reflecting on how his own life seemed at the time compared to his childhood in Columbia.

“The moment that I came of age,” said Chabon, according to the WSJ, “the time that I was a child, in 1970s Columbia, Maryland, that was a moment when a lot of things were being tried. Let’s try this, let’s try that. What if men raised the children, and women went to work? What if families included multiple parents? There was a lot of social experimentation, political experimentation, all kinds of experimentation. That was the age I came of age and Columbia in itself was an experiment. I don’t think that moment’s ever coming back. The world as I experienced it as a kid, in terms of race, and the companionship of black people and white people may never be coming back either. In the end I guess what I decided was to try and recreate it in in the form of a novel, so that I could at least live in it while I was working on it.”

Do you remember the early days of Columbia? Was it like Chabon’s description? Do you think modern day Columbia has lost those qualities?

JH June 22, 2012 at 08:24 PM
In the early days there were lots of young traditional families (mostly middle class and many professionals) with dreams of raising their children to respect the community and obey our laws. The environment was clean and always a high priority. And the streets were safe and free of traffic congestion. Family oriented recreation and association events were very popular. Of course there were some alternate life style arrangements, but these were never a significant element of the Columbia culture. The matter of race relations was more or less the same as today. People wanted to be good neighbors and get along.
suzanne Waller October 26, 2012 at 07:57 AM
Michael Chabon's perspectives on the Columbia envisioned by James Rouse are accurte. I especially enjoy his description of Columbia as a place of amazement and expectation and wonder as each of Rouse's visions came to fruition. Earlt reesidents were alwways welcomed to be part of the decision-making processes for Columbia. Inclusioin was and is a great gift in creating a "better" city. We are creating a vision for the future that can be as dynamic and inviting as first principles of Columbia. Be amazed, get on the bandwagon as we move forward. Thank you Michael for reminding us of who we have been!
jam November 14, 2012 at 09:43 AM
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