Friday, December 14, 2018

Meeting the Real Maurice Ruffin

Melinda Palacio

Maurice Carlos Ruffin's Amazing Debut Novel
We Cast a Shadow
Meeting the Real Maurice Carlos Ruffin
Melinda Palacio

Maurice Carlos Ruffin is a name you may soon never forget. He has written a novel that sheds light on all the twisted and ugly notions about racism and bigotry in this country. His satirical novel is set in a Southern town where an affluent person of color can pay big bucks to undergo treatment that will make them more white, from thinner lips to a full experimental demelanization process. The story is a haunting view of one black father who has drunk so much of the assimilation Kool-Aid that he believes whitening his biracial son’s skin will offer the child an easier life and better prospects as an adult. This book succeeds on so many levels, not just its satirical and shocking plot, but Ruffin is a master storyteller with a poet’s attention to detail and a craftsman’s attention to the elements of story. 

From his early days six years ago, sharing scenes from his novel-in-progress, Ruffin knew he was on to something big and important. One listener told he he was going to be very famous and the writing on the wall is just the beginning from Poets & Writers Magazine, Goodreads, Publishers Weekly, Cosmopolitan, and the New York Times. The first chapter of the novel won the William Faulkner-William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition for Novel-in-Progress. 

When I asked Maurice about what it was like getting past the first chapters of his manuscript, he mentioned that he was able to find his footing with the book once he heard the voice of his main character speaking. “It was like talking to spirits,” he said, “I asked the character to tell me the highlights of the story.” By day, Maurice is a social security lawyer. His main character also happens to be a lawyer, but it is certainly not him. Maurice is very comfortable in his own skin: “I’m fortunate my parents gave me self-confidence in my appearance.” However, like his character, simply by being black, Ruffin has experienced what it’s like to be a minority in white spaces: “people in law firms have been shocked that I’m intelligent, that I have more honors than my bosses.” The other day, at a buffet, a lady assumed he was one of the workers. 

In his imaginative contribution to the literary canon, Maurice paints a cautionary tale about what goes wrong when we don’t live up to our expectations: “I thought about what would happen if my life went completely wrong.” Maurice enjoys speaking to students and kids. His message is the same one he’s learned from authors such as Toni Morrison and Nikki Giovanni, ‘Pay attention, be honest about what’s happening’.

 I asked Maurice if there was anything else we had not touched upon in our interview. He wanted readers to know that while he does not write everyday, he finds the act of writing enjoyable and a lot of fun. Second, he is very happy about the cover of his book.

 I was also fortunate to grab some time with the author before Oprah and the world get a hold of him. The book is We Cast a Shadow, available for pre-order and on sale January 29, 2019, Penguin Random House. 


Unknown said...

I can hardly wait to read the book when it comes out!

Vérité Parlant said...

Sweet! Great job, Melinda, interviewing a wonderful writer. I pre-ordered my copy months ago.