© Nancy Crampton.
Brother, I’m Dying
Alfred A. Knopf
Interview conducted by Jennifer
JG: What was the hardest
part of your book to write - and why was it so challenging?
The hardest part was reading
the government documents involved in my uncle's death.
Every encounter he had with
a government official seemed so unfriendly, so distant,
so cold. You have a feeling that no one was responding
to him as a person, as a human being. It was also very
difficult to write about my father's death. Obviously
there was so much emotion involved.
I had been with my father just
a few days before he died. This is not in the book but
when I left him to return to Miami with my daughter
before he died, he said to me, "When you come back,
you might be able to see me, but I won't be able to
Soon after that, he stopped
eating and drinking and he died seventy-two hours later.
JG: What's the greatest
personal debt you incurred while writing this book?
I owe a great debt to the Florida Immigrant
Advocacy Center. They helped me get the government papers
through Freedom of Information Act requests and even
a lawsuit. I also owe a great debt to the lawyers who
represented my uncle and cousin while they were in immigration
custody. And of course I owe a great deal to my uncle
and father. I feel like this book is a collaboration
with the two of them.
JG: How long did you
work on this book for - and how much do you think you
ended up earning per hour?
I worked on it for about two and a half years. I don't
know how much I ended up earning per hour.
This book, I would have written
JG: If you were a judge
for this year's National Book Awards, what two non-fiction
books would you have picked as finalists?
Ummmm....I read more fiction
than nonfiction, but I would have chosen the Arnold
Rampersad book for sure. It's a wonderful book.
JG: What are three
of your favorite non-fiction books of all time?
The Fire Next Time, We
Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With
Our Families by Philip Gourevitch, Jamaica Kincaid's
Brother and Joan Didion's The
Year of Magical Thinking.
JG: Of all that transpired
after your book was published, what was your favorite
At readings, people who have
read the book bring me flowers and give me lots of hugs.
They say they feel like they're
members of my family. Those moments are great.
JG: At your lowest
moment, how many times a day did you check your Amazon
rating? (Be honest!)
I don't really do that. Honestly.
I have a small child. When I get to the computer, I
have to get to work quickly.
JG: What's the single
best piece of advice you received while working on this
Robin Desser, my editor, said,
"Dig deeper. Go as deep as you can bear."
She was right.
JG: What impact, if
any, do you think your National Book Award nomination
will have on your future work?
I am lucky to have been nominated
before, in fiction. I saw the impact then.
It makes people take
you more seriously as a writer. I was twenty six years
old when I was nominated twelve years ago. I remember
suddenly feeling like a grown up because of it.
Gonnerman is a contributing editor at New York Magazine.
She was a finalist for the 2004 National Book Award
for Life on the Outside: The Prison Odyssey of Elaine
Bartlett (Farrar, Straus and Giroux).
Photo © Nina Subin