January 13, 2019
New York Times Book Review: “The Truths We Hold”
What’s the most surprising thing you learned while writing it?
I was raised to do things, not to talk about myself or my feelings — or frankly, even to look back. It was an effort to talk about my feelings as things were happening. It was difficult. I talk about a lot that’s really personal, and that I had not talked about in public. That was a component of it that made me feel very vulnerable. But I felt it was important to talk about for a couple of reasons. One, I’m really clear in my mind that there are a lot of experiences I’ve had, emotional experiences and responses, that are in common with a lot of people. But more important, I wanted to give context to the work I’ve done. Almost everything I’ve done professionally has been motivated by some experience I’ve been exposed to.
The process of writing the book required me to really explore what I was feeling at those moments. For example, the whole chapter that we named “Underwater” — I had never talked about the fact that our mother bought our first house when I was a teenager. I’ll never forget, when my mother came back and said, “This is going to be our home.” The pictures and the excitement she had, and the excitement we then had. I connected that emotion to what it meant for all those homeowners who either had that hope when they engaged in what ended up being a fraudulent mortgage scheme or when they lost their homes. Knowing what that meant, when I’m sitting across the table from executives at the biggest banks in the country and feeling a sense of responsibility, that this wasn’t simply a financial transaction. When your mother comes home with the picture of the first home you’re ever going to have, it’s not like someone waving around a piece of paper with a stock portfolio. It’s a whole other thing.
In what way is the book you wrote different from the book you set out to write?
Hopefully the book takes the reader on a journey down memory lane about the last 12 months and how much happened. Everything is happening so rapidly right now that a lot of people tend to forget what just happened six months ago, when the thing that happened six months ago was earth-shattering. There’s a lot in the book that was happening in real time; so literally as I’m writing it, it’s happening. The book was due and then the Brett Kavanaugh hearings happened, and so how do I handle that? It was important to me to at least try to talk about that, knowing that people will be reading about it months after it happened.
“I hope you’ll walk away renewing your faith in the nobility and importance of public service, and convinced that we are a country that was founded on noble ideals. Imperfect though we may be, what makes us strong, and special, is that we’ve always aspired to reach those ideals.”–Kamala Harris.
Who is a creative person (not a writer) who has influenced you and your work?
Certainly my mother. She was incredibly creative, as a scientist. But when I think about performers: Bob Marley. I first started listening to him when I was a child. My father had an incredible jazz collection but also a lot of Marley. I saw him in concert at the Greek Theater in Berkeley. I was hooked.
Jamaica’s history is actually not that well known in the context of the issues we deal with in the United States. But Jamaica grappled with vicious slavery for generations, and then colonists, with a very strong sense of identity in terms of what it meant to be particularly a black Jamaican. A lot of his music was about what it means to fight for the people. He was a very spiritual person also. I’m very spiritual. I don’t talk a lot about it, but the idea that there is a higher being and that we should be motivated by love of one another — that also requires us to fight.
Persuade someone to read “The Truths We Hold” in 50 words or less.
I hope you’ll walk away renewing your faith in the nobility and importance of public service, and convinced that we are a country that was founded on noble ideals. Imperfect though we may be, what makes us strong, and special, is that we’ve always aspired to reach those ideals.