Debut Author Snapshot: Charles M. Blow

Posted by Goodreads on September 9, 2014

The memoir Fire Shut Up in My Bones opens with Charles Blow in tears, racing down Interstate 20 in Louisiana with a .22 pistol on the passenger seat, intent on killing the man who molested him as a child. This searing image sets the tone for the narrative, which covers Blow's difficult childhood and coming-of-age while offering a counterpoint to his well-known public persona—a New York Times columnist since 2008, Blow is also a frequent commentator on CNN, the BBC, Fox News, and HBO. Fire Shut Up in My Bones cloaks its gut-wrenching honesty in lyrical prose, describing Blow's path from an impoverished beginning in segregated, rural Louisiana to his early adulthood years, in which he comes to terms with his sexuality and starts his journalism career. Blow offers snapshots from his childhood and talks about what motivates him to write.

"Me with the furry brown dog with floppy leather ears and big button eyes that my mother made for me the day she gave it to me in the House With No Steps (I'm in front of the window that my mother would later kick my father out of)."
Goodreads: Your book describes many painful memories. Did the impulse to write a memoir stem from wanting to express your story or the need to share your story with others?

Charles Blow: I'm a writer, so in part the impulse was purely literary. I had a story in me, one that only I could write, and I had to get it out. I didn't have to get it out because I had a burning desire to share it as much as I had a burning desire to write it.

GR: How did you begin? Is there a certain memory that begged to be written?

CB: I began writing this book before I knew I was writing it. I had an extraordinarily long commute, so I began writing short autobiographical essays that I thought I might be able to submit to a magazine for publication.

In 2009, that all changed. That year two 11-year-old boys, Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover and Jaheem Herrera, both hanged themselves—just ten days apart—after experiencing unrelenting homophobic bullying.

I thought: Not on my watch.

"Papa Joe's House, where I grew up. (Taken from Google Street view. It's no longer there.) The large window in the front is where Mam' Grace died and was my bedroom."
I knew that experience. I knew what it felt like to be the target of bullying, and I knew what it felt like to think that suicide was the only way out. But fortunately I thought better of it.

I knew then that I didn't just need to write scenes from my life but the whole narrative arc of it, so that I could speak to the pain Carl and Jaheem must have felt and to help other children—and adults—like them.

GR: The book focuses on your childhood and college years. Did you consider including more from your adult life? How did you decide when to open and close your story?

CB: The book is a boy-to-man, coming-of-age memoir. I knew that the narrative reached its end the moment that I could recognize myself as the man I would become and move past childhood trauma. Maybe one day I'll write about my adult life in another book. Who knows.

GR: Your columns for The New York Times cover a broad range of topics but often focus on social justice for disadvantaged groups. Is there a social or political issue that you feel isn't getting enough ink in the media right now?

"School is out! Running from my class to my mother's class at Ringgold."
CB: I am convinced too many people don't understand how poverty is lived in America, particularly rural and small-town poverty. I like to illuminate those lives— the life that was my own—as much as I can.

GR: What's next for you as a writer?

CB: Ha! This question causes me terrible anxiety. I feel that I should be writing another book already, but I have no idea what that book is. I keep telling myself that I don't have to look for the next book because when I'm ready, it will find me.

Comments Showing 1-20 of 20 (20 new)

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message 1: by Meg (new)

Meg Amor Aloha,

This book sounds really interesting. I'm really looking forward to reading it. It's already captured my interest.

Thanks and aloha Meg Amor :-)

message 2: by Shirley (new)

Shirley Lindsey I read one of your columns just to find out who you are. I was interested in your story. However, you are filled with left winged hatred and do not tell the truth. Republicans have done more to help blacks rise out of their undeserved poverty than democrats. Check your history. I sure will not be buying your book.

message 3: by Lisa (new)

Lisa This writer is not at all "filled with hatred," that's just racist screed. Please keep it to yourself in future.

message 4: by Meg (new)

Meg Amor Lisa wrote: "This writer is not at all "filled with hatred," that's just racist screed. Please keep it to yourself in future."

Thanks Lisa. I was a bit taken aback by the savageness of the comment and didn't know what to say. I have been sitting here thinking about it for half an hour.

Aloha Meg

message 5: by Dave (new)

Dave Peticolas Thanks for the recommendation, I love reading Blow's columns.

message 6: by Meg (new)

Meg Amor Yes, I've just gone and looked at some of his comments on Twitter. What an insightful, intelligent man. I'm really looking forward to grabbing this book. Something with a bit of depth to it. :-)

Aloha Meg :-)

Gloria J. Taylor I want to read your book. I am from Louisiana as well. I know about poverty n sexual assaults by those close to u. But by the Grace of God I live.

message 8: by Anna (new)

Anna Oh my word. This has been a wake up call on reality for me. I didn't think such comments or thoughts as those expressed by Shirley and Barbett existed anymore. I would say they validate some of the content of Mr. Blow's story. I'll look forward to reading it, with an understanding that his story just might be repeating itself in another's life today. Lets be on the lookout and help be a catalyst for change! Thank you Shirley and Barbett for educating me.

message 9: by Sandra (new)

Sandra Bell Barbett wrote: "I agree with you Shirley but you can expect to be subjected to lots of attacks from the "tolerant" liberals who think free speech is for them alone and if you don't suck up to jews, blacks, hispan..."

message 10: by Sandra (new)

Sandra Bell Shirley & Barbett--You are certainly entitled to your opinions but in doing so, you have exposed your racist sentiments, which is fine. Gosh, your words seem quite vitriolic and angry. What a horrible, sad way to live. By the way, the racial population of America continues to change with growing numbers of Asians and Hispanics. Guess you’ll have to find a hole to live in to keep your distance from all the so-called “minorities.”

message 11: by Cynthia (new)

Cynthia Barbett wrote: "I agree with you Shirley but you can expect to be subjected to lots of attacks from the "tolerant" liberals who think free speech is for them alone and if you don't suck up to jews, blacks, hispan..."

"Your country" does this mean you are Native American?

message 12: by Erika (new)

Erika Barbett wrote: "I agree with you Shirley but you can expect to be subjected to lots of attacks from the "tolerant" liberals who think free speech is for them alone and if you don't suck up to jews, blacks, hispan..."
Do you know why black people continue to write about "what racists Whites are?" Because of comments like yours. Your very sentiments are the reason people like Blow need to continue to write. Racism still exists--is rampant, in fact--and until comments like yours cease to exist, we will need narratives like Blow's. And how dare you suggest that black people "return to Africa"? Many of them do not even come from Africa! They're born Americans, just like you. I'm so sorry that you have such views. That hatred must be exhausting. But people are people, no matter what color and they have just as much right to live in America as you do.

message 13: by Alberta (new)

Alberta P. I grew up in the 40s in Louisiana but was taught to treat everyone as you want to be treated.

message 14: by April (new)

April Just pre-ordered my copy on Amazon. Thank you, Shirley, for reminding me that racism is alive and well in America and that it is our moral responsibility to learn everything we can about other people's lives in order to eradicate it.

Also, screw you.

message 15: by Meg (new)

Meg Amor Lol. Ohh. That's gorgeous April. Fantastic. I love it. :-). And I am so thrilled to hear intelligent comments from people on here regarding the shocking attitudes toward racism. It makes my angry that there is still this ignorant and disgusting level of racism out there in America.

I don't begin to understand it. Anyone born in the states is an American. And yet this is not the first time I've heard the 'go back to Africa' cry. Where does that level of ignorance come from? The shocking disregard for fellow humans. The arrogance that because someone is white they are entitled to be here. Have a chat to a Native American and then ask yourself if maybe it's time to move back to Poland or Italy. It wherever your grandfather was born. At least your ancestors probably came here willingly. They weren't brought and bought as slaves.

My only hope and it's probably a vain one is that the people who sprout this level of arrogance and ignorance do not call themselves Christians or any other religion that professes to believe in God or Jesus. I'm not religious myself but from what I've read about Jesus etc. It seems he'd take a pretty dim view of these racist attitudes.

Thank you for people like Charles Bone who get brave and risk a great deal to tell their stories.

People like you are my heroes.

Aloha Meg.

message 16: by Meg (new)

Meg Amor Oh My God. There is no reply to this that will mean I remain sane and reasonable.

I can't even comprehend this level of ignorance or arrogance. It's white supremacy basically. That is VERY, VERY ugly. "We're white, so we're right and we are the one's that have rights. We are Gods chosen people. Jesus hates blacks. Only white Americans belong here."

Have I hit the main points of how you feel?

This is incredibly creepy.

White supremacists. Yuk.

Why would you even comment on a book written by a black person when it's clear you're a white supremacist? You're just a stirrer. And that's pure evil in this world as far as i'm concerned.


message 17: by April (new)

April Please refrain from feeding the troll.

message 18: by Meg (new)

Meg Amor Oh sorry. Yes. Must keep my hands to myself.

message 19: by Madeline (new)

Madeline Thius gentleman faced far more obstacles and received far less help than I did. I am really looking forward to reading his story.

message 20: by Meg (new)

Meg Amor Wow... I just read the sample of this book. I am hooked! What beautiful writing! I'm really looking forward to reading the whole thing. I'll be back when I have. :-)

Thanks and aloha Meg :)

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