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Carvell Wallace Reflects on His Homeless Childhood in ‘Another Word for Love’: NPR

Another Word for Love, by Carvell Wallace

Award-winning writer Carvell Wallace was 12 years old when he realized: he couldn’t count on anyone else; the only person who would always be with him in the world was himself.

Wallace, who grew up homeless for a year, sometimes sleeping in a car with his mother, calls this realization “a hurt response…a way to protect myself from feeling real.”

In his new memoir, Another word for love, Wallace writes about growing up with and without his mother in western Pennsylvania, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles. He also chronicles his addictions, becoming a parent and writer, and thriving as a queer black man.

Wallace did not begin writing until he was 40, beginning with an impassioned Facebook post in response to the death of black teenager Michael Brown, who was shot and killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri , in 2014. Since then, he has written profiles. musicians, athletes and politicians for publications like The New York Times Magazine, Rolling Stone And The New Yorker. He is also co-author, with basketball star Andre Iguodala, of The sixth man, which chronicles Iguodala’s NBA career.

Wallace says he is careful to avoid what he calls “trauma pornography” when writing about his own experiences of poverty, racism and homophobia: “There’s a kind of strange macabre fascination in watching people suffering under oppression because of art and people writing about their oppression and oppression. relive it again and again. »

For his own memoir, Wallace says he focuses on the root of his pain and his recovery, rather than the nature of the pain. “It’s about what it means to become whole again. It’s about living, it’s about hope, it’s about wholeness and finding yourself again. It’s about courage,” he says.

Interview Highlights

On processing his trauma about his mother through writing

I think it was cathartic and healing,…even if it’s a cliché, because it helped me relieve some lingering resentment that I may have still had towards her. Because I believe that, like any resentment we feel, even if it is justified, it hurts us more than anyone else. … (When) my mother was alive, I had a very complicated relationship with her. On the one hand, I loved it and it was great. On the other hand, I was angry with her for leaving. I was angry with her for not being there. I was angry with her for the way things happened in my life, because of the way she, in my opinion, chose to live.

By forgiving his mother before she died

Towards the end of his life, I had a real moment of clarity, like two days before he died, where suddenly I realized, oh, wait a second, there’s no benefit to me being angry with this person. …And after that point, I was like, oh, you can actually let go of anything at any time, right? It is indeed possible. It may not be easy, but it is available to you.

So it became very important for my health, but also out of respect for my mother and my ancestors, that I let go of all the problems I have – or had – with this person and focus on this what were his power, his beauty and his glory. . And I actually believe there’s a real personal and political benefit to that, because it allows me to be more empowered. This allows me to connect to its energy sources. It allows me to show myself more fully. …So I have no doubt about the fact that she joined me in writing this book. I have no doubt that this was what she wanted for me on some level. And to the extent that she is able to reach me wherever she is.

For trying on his aunt’s clothes when he was a child and being ashamed of them

Carvell Wallace’s new memoir is Another word for love.

FSG Books

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FSG Books

Carvell Wallace’s new memoir is Another word for love.

FSG Books

Adults have enormous emotional and spiritual power in children’s lives, and I’m always surprised by how deep that goes. And so (my aunt) saying, in 1987, “You’re horrible, you’re a monster, you disgust me,” is incredibly powerful. And that person saying in 2011, or whatever year it was, “I hope you were able to get over it,” is also powerful. I think I got off the phone (with my aunt), I was like, yeah, I’m going to be magically free. …And what I learned was that it was a good start, but all the scars and damage around it were there. So it was not possible to magically untangle everything. It was like, now I had permission to start untangling myself.

On what it means to make an excuse out of your life

The ways we harm each other can never be undone. You cannot harm a person. And it’s a heavy awareness to have, and yet, for me, absolutely necessary. Because if you truly want to make amends and right wrongs, you must fully accept the fact that I cannot right a person’s wrong. …

Real apologies are about changing behavior. So if you just say, “I’m sorry,” and “That was terrible,” and keep doing the same thing, that’s not enough. And so for me, living in reparation means waking up every day with the awareness that I am responsible for my behavior. …And it’s necessary for me to face my behavior and my issues and my triggers and my flaws and whatever, because of how these things have harmed other people, it’s actually necessary for me to manage them. It’s not optional. It’s not, “Oh, today I’m going to try to be good.” In fact, I’ve already hurt enough people that I owe it to the whole world.

Writing about what her mother’s life might have been like if she had had an abortion

It was so good because, again, I also live in reparation from my mother. And what that means is that I’m trying to love him fully now, in a way that maybe I wasn’t able to do when he was alive. And so there’s a sense of joy that I feel in being able to examine it fully. And so that part was good. Of course, there is also grief. There is immense grief, and none of it boils down to, “I shouldn’t have been born.” I ruined my mother’s life. ” I’ve no idea. That’s not even how it works in my mind at all. Rather, it’s grief for what she couldn’t have. And I think the fact that she was successful helps her a lot because, in my opinion, I think she has more opportunities. Their spirit and soul will have more opportunities to be incarnated in new ways. And so this go-around that she had may not have been everything she wanted, but she was freed from that, from those constraints – and I love that for her.

Sam Briger and Thea Chaloner produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper and Meghan Sullivan adapted it for the web.


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