Bookmark This is a feature that highlights new books by College of Arts & Sciences faculty and alumni, published the first week of each month.
Q: Can you give us a brief synopsis of your book?
A: Everywhere You Don’t Belong follows a young man in Chicago as he matures, falls in love, experiences tragedy, moves away to college and tries to figure out his place in America.
Q: How does this fit in with your research interests and passions?
A: Claude, the narrator of Everywhere You Don’t Belong, is an unspectacular kid, someone you wouldn’t remember if you met him at a party, spoke for 15 minutes. My work is obsessed with loners. I like writing about people in the back of the classroom. Shy and sensitive people. People on the margins. People that look around and don’t feel understood. Maybe their race marginalizes them, or their class, or their sense of humor, or their messed-up family. Giving those characters space, on the page, to express themselves and be heard — that’s important to me.
Q: What was the original idea that made you think: “There’s a book here?”
A: In an undergraduate fiction workshop, similar to ones I’m teaching this semester, I started writing stories about Claude and his grandmother. After a few of those stories, after I went to grad school, one of my professors said, “Hey, man, I think you’re writing a book.” I looked down at what I had and agreed. Students, you never know what could come from your workshop stories.
Q: What surprised you when researching/writing this book?
A: I fell in love with all the characters. That was surprising. I’ve heard stories about authors developing intense connections with their novels. Sounds cliche, like something from a sentimental movie, right? At the beginning, I knew I cared about my characters. To write 300 pages with someone, you must care about them. Still, when the story was over, I was sad. I missed them. I smile whenever I think about them. I think about what they’re doing now, what they’re eating for breakfast, what they’re doing to stay happy. It’s surprising. They’re not real!
Q: Where’s your go-to writing spot, and how do you deal with writer’s block?
A: I moved down here recently, so my writing routine hasn’t gotten stale yet. I have a writing room in my house. Putting on my headphones and scribbling away hasn’t failed yet. My office on campus too. Same thing: headphones, getting to work. When it does get stale, a road trip usually helps, spending a Sunday afternoon playing video games or watching mindless action movies. Spacing out. I developed most of my writing habits when I was in college. And that’s what I would do: drive around for a few hours, video games, movies. Habits are hard to break. I’ve tried replacing video games with running. Nope. Doesn’t work. FIFA is the cure.
Bump is a new assistant professor of creative writing in the department of English and comparative literature.
His debut novel was a New York Times Notable Book of 2020 and won the Ernest J. Gaines Award for literary excellence and the Black Caucus of the American Library Association’s First Novelist Award. The book was also a “BuzzFeed Most Anticipated Book of the Year.” It will be adapted for television.
Library Journal gave it a starred review, writing: “With deft writing and rat-a-tat, laugh-until-you-gasp-at-the-implications dialogue, Bump delivers a singular sense of growing up Black that will resonate with readers.”
Bump will discuss the book in a Zoom webinar as part of the department of English and comparative literature’s 225th anniversary celebration on Sept. 9 at 6 p.m. Register and learn more here.