The Great American Mulatto: Mat Johnson Talks Identity and Facing Ghosts

The Great American Mulatto: Mat Johnson Talks Identity and Facing Ghosts

Gawker Review of Books

Victor LaValle

Mat Johnson and I have been friends since we published our first books fifteen years ago. In that time we’ve spent an untold number of hours bullshitting about writing, parenting, and sundry nonsense. Mat’s new novel, Loving Day—which will be released by Spiegel & Grau on May 26—is the story of a mixed-race comic book artist who returns from Wales to his native Philadelphia to discover a daughter he never knew he’d fathered, a mixed-race cult that hopes to recruit him, and a pair of ghosts haunting his father’s home. Our conversation appears below.

Victor LaValle: Germantown’s Finest, what’s going on?

Mat Johnson: I’m sweating my ass of in Houston Fucking Texas is what’s going on. It’s like Philly in July but for six months down here.

VL: That’s going to ruin your image as a writer. Your Twitter profile photo makes you look like an elegant leg breaker, not a sweating goon.

MJ: Breaking legs builds moisture in your arm pits. I am rugged fiction writer man. I make my own paper from the pulp I chew off trees, man…

VL: Art versus entertainment makes sense as a kind of push/pull in lit fiction, but in the new book you’ve added a third ingredient. Outrage. Some motherfuckers are going to be outraged by what you’ve put in this book. Black, white, mixed. It’s possible you’ve even defamed ghosts with one of the subplots.

MJ: I like being scared when I’m writing. I enjoy building to the moment where I’m like, I can’t believe I’m putting this on the page. All of Loving Day was like this. Growing up mulatto, looking white but being black. In the black community I never talked about being mixed. I was too busy overcompensating to fit in.

Writing this book I kept thinking, black people are going to hate that I’m even talking about this, mixed people are going to be annoyed about the way I’m talking about it, and white people aren’t going to know what the hell it is I’m even talking about. Shit, I’m still scared…

Read the entire interview here.

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