Colson Whitehead – Viewing Trauma Through a Personal Lens in “The Nickel Boys” | The Daily Show

Colson Whitehead – Viewing Trauma Through a Personal Lens in “The Nickel Boys” | The Daily Show


-Welcome to the show.
-Thanks for having me. Um, you have written
yet another book, and this book,
many are saying once again, is one of the most painful
examinations of a true story illustrated and told
in a fictitious way. The Nickel Boys is based on what some call
the rehabilitory school. Some people just call it
a torture facility. It was the Dozier School. Why did you choose to tell
the story the way you did? ‘Cause you have such a specific
way of telling the story. Yeah, it was based on-on
the Dozier School, which was a reform school
in Florida. Operated for 110 years. And the idea was very lofty. You know, instead of locking up
kids with grown-up offenders, what if we give them teaching,
school one day and-and work the next? They’ll come out
and be rehabilitated. Um, but immediately, you know, three years
into it being opened, there were sto…
There were kids as young as six being shackled,
put in solitary confinement. Every 15 years,
there’d be an exposé and talk of reform,
and nothing happened until it finally closed in 2011. And I-I was shocked when it hit
the national media. They found unmarked graves. Um, 65 unmarked graves, and, uh, they tried
to reconstruct what happened. And it had been covered a lot
in Florida -but not so much national media.
-Right. And I felt that, um… uh, if there’s one place
like this, how many other stories
are we not hearing about? -And…
-It’s interesting. Yeah. And it’s interesting
that they-they… You know, the idea of the school seems like a great idea,
you know. People go… As you said,
it’s a lofty ambition. We-We’re gonna go with reform. Let’s not lock the kids up. Let’s not put them in jail.
Let’s find a different way. But for all intents
and purposes, this was almost worse
than a prison. Well, yeah. There’s a lot
of physical abuse, sexual abuse. In the unmarked graves,
they dug up the bodies and found kids
with, uh, shotgun pellets in their skeletons. Blunt force trauma
to their skulls. And, so, um, you know, usually,
we have… we have great ideas, and when people get involved,
they-they turn to crap, -unfortunately, so…
-Right. You-you write the book
from an interesting perspective, because it’s based on this…
on this school, but you’re telling it
through a very personal lens. There are two characters
in the book who we’re following the story
through, and both of them
are at the school, but both of them see the school
through very different lenses. One sees the school as, like, a,
“Oh, this is not going well, “but, you know, it’s not the…
it’s not the world or it’s not America
as it’s supposed to be.” And another goes, “No, this is exactly
what America’s all about.” Why did you choose
to tell the story in that way? I could have set it
in, uh… in ’85 and in-in 1924. I picked 1963,
’cause it’s the height -of the civil rights movement.
-Right. And Elwood,
our-our positive character, optimistic character,
has seen advances in terms of social order
and-and justice. Uh, but it’s also the height
of segregation– Jim Crow laws
that restricted black life and movement in America. And so we had
these two warring, um, ideas -of progressivism and-and
entrenched injustice. -Right. And so Elwood, um, thinks
he can change the world. He’s been inspired
by Martin Luther King and the marches
he’s seen in his lifetime. -Mm-hmm. -And then there’s
Turner, who’s an orphan and who’s always lived
by his wits and doesn’t think that people
change or systems change. -Right.
-I think, you know, it-it– I think
they represent parts of me. I have an optimistic side
and a pessimistic side, and they’re often at war
with each other. And I think
it’s a fundamental, sort of, philosophical disagreement
we all have. When-when you write books
like this, do you ever find yourself
changing your mind as you’re writing the book? Because although you’re creating
the story, I mean, th-there must be
a part of you, as a– as a storyteller
and as a story consumer, that is also falling
into the story. Like, do you write the book
and then go, “Oh, I don’t have hope
for America,” and then write another page
and go, -“No, I’m very hopeful for…”
-No. Sure. Well, you have
to get in the character, defending who’s, uh, you know, -taken-taken command
of the story. -Yes. Right. So, some days, I’m Elwood.
Some days, I’m Turner and going back and forth. Um, and sometimes I’m
in my character, sometimes not. Uh, Cora, the main character
of The Underground Railroad, has the least amount of me
in her, -which is probably why it’s
my most popular book. -Mm-hmm. -(laughs)
-But in terms of, uh… But with this book, uh, you know, I sort of have
my Turner days and Elwood days. If-if someone’s reading
this book, I mean, you know, for–
I-I won’t lie– like, when I– when
I was reading parts of it, I-I– you want to put it down
and-and– but you don’t want
to put it down. You want to put it down because
of how it makes you feel, but then you want
to keep reading it because the story’s so engaging and it’s gripping and, you know,
you don’t want to look away. It-it feels
like you’re not afraid to write stories like this.
You know? Some would say
that you’re exposing the ugla– ugly underbelly of America. W-Would you say you’re doing it
for that reason? Or are you just telling stories
to try and get people to think about their world
differently? I would try to–
you know, to write projects, uh, that, uh, is appropriate
for me, like this year. And I’ve written books
that have a lot of jokes and books that h-have no jokes. Um, I’ve written
two serious books in a row, one about slavery and this one
about the reform school. And if you’re gonna tell
the story right, -you have to be all in.
And so it’s brutal. -Right. Um, slavery was brutal. It’s not like I’m writing
Gone with the Wind, where a white lady’s
being self-actualized against the backdrop of slavery, and it’s like, “Oh, they’re
trying to burn my house down.” It’s like, “They should burn
your (bleep) house down. -You’re a (bleep) slaver.” Um…
-(laughing) (cheering and applause) And then, uh,
with The Nickel Boys, you know, it’s based on a true
story, and I want to, you know– If I can get ten percent
of what actually happened -to the kids there,
I’ve done my job. -Mm-hmm. -And, um, so you’re all in.
-You do– you do a lot of research
for these books, but you chose
not to go to the school to do your research. Why? Yeah, I mean, uh,
the more research I can do from my home, on my computer
and archives, the happier I am. You know, when you leave
the house, uh, there’s so many– what’s the word?– people, -(laughter) -and if I can avoid
human interaction, it’s usually a win. Um, but you do have to go
into the field sometimes -to get your-your real
writer badge. -Right. In the case of-of this book, um, I meant to go to Florida
and visit the school, and, uh, I kept putting it off, and I was halfway through
the book, and I figured, “Oh, next month and next month.” And then I realized
that whenever I thought about going down there, I’d get
this sort of sick feeling -and this really heavy feeling.
-Right. You know, I was so invested
in Elwood and Turner’s story and the stories of, um,
the kids who’d been to school, uh, that I realized
at some point that, um,
I would only go down there with, like, a bulldoze and a… -bulldozer and a stick
of dynamite… -Mm-hmm. to destroy it, you know,
as a place of evil. Um, a year and a half ago, uh, Hurricane Michael actually destroyed a lot
of the buildings. And if you see it now, all those structures are sort of
crumbling, and that sort of inner rot is
now written on its outer face. -Um, and so…
-Wow. Um, Mother Nature took over
for justice. If-if someone… if someone
looks at this book and goes, “Colson, I love your writing, “but I-I don’t know
if I want to read a book that-that’s about a story
that is this painful” why would you say reading
this book would be different to just reading the story of what actually happened
in real life? Yeah, I mean, uh,
it’s not non-fiction. And, uh, I took the facts
of the school and… and put my own characters
in there. Um, and like I said, it’s a
brut… it’s a brutal story, but it’s also about, uh,
a journey into selfhood. Uh, two thirds of the book takes
place in the… in the school, and a third follows Elwood,
the main character, as he comes -to New York and-and makes
a life for himself. -Mm-hmm. He’s overcoming trauma,
this catastrophic event. And… and that’s a really
important part of the story– his journey into making
a coherent self, or coming back from, um,
this terrible incident. And if you don’t want
to read it, you know, there are bookstores,
and you can buy, like, a book about a magical puppy who gets lost and has
to find his way home, so… -(applause)
-Just you know? Or you can read both. You can read the puppy one,
and then you can read this, but I would recommend highly
that everyone read this one, because you won’t learn much
about the puppies. -Thank you so much for joining
us on the show. -No, thank you. -Sure, sure. -Phenomenal story,
phenomenal writer. Really appreciate it. The Nickel Boys
is available now– a powerful story
by an amazing writer. Colson Whitehead, everybody.

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  1. I do always wonder every time I hear a new broken thing our country has done: when does it fucking stop.
    Seriously guys, when does it fucking stop. Cause I know it’s not me, and probably not you.
    But when does it stop.

  2. Colson Whitehead is an amazing author and come on now Trevor, you and your writers couldn't come up with better questions? Bruh your show has lost it's bite, I understand it's a comedy show but so is John Oliver's and honestly so is Jim Jefferies and they both are funny while pulling no punches, just an opinion

  3. Yes, “people,” that is the word. I can’t wait to read it, I do not want to read about the magical puppy who I’m sure is very cute and magical. 😊

  4. I think I'm crazy!! I'm the only one that hear stories like this and think that one each of people make mankind seem like monsters (white race)! This educated, pray to Jesus way gone keep us in bondage for 400 more years.. y'all do know that brown people all over the world taking their land back!! Only way to end racism is to end this one particular race!!

  5. This same thing happened to all Native kids put into "mission" schools, taken away from their families, sometimes by force or theft and the families had no idea what had happened to their children. I wonder if the children in this school in Florida were Native. Also happened all across Canada.

  6. I haven't picked up his new book yet, but The Underground Railroad exceeds superlatives. Required reading for anyone with a soul.

  7. I have a separate shelf on goodreads called Trevor Noah.
    There is his book obviously and of those people he interviews.
    Need to catch up with my reading

  8. Rip ,❣️🕊️✝️🤦🤦to 🙄😕those babies, who died at the hands of evil 👿 predators 💔💔💔💙💜might read one day, not up to it , yet🤦😕🕊️✝️✝️✝️

  9. The AmeriKKKan Educational system is in the garbage bin. Society pays athletes billions and pays the teachers who create athletes nothing. Racist Backwards Idiotic Country..

  10. Really eye-opening book — just finished it. Please, everyone read this book and learn of the atrocities of schools like this and yes Beverly, the great majority were black men being horribly mistreated and killed. Modern day plantation and slavery at its worst.

  11. I need your support guys all over the world.. I wish to tell you how this very normal video is meant to support my mum who is on sickbed just watch and subscribe https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZBJ4DQTfViA .

  12. Great, just great….. As if white people need another reason to be hated. As if black people need another reason to focus on being a victims. Is the books' point really about recovering from serious trauma? I hope it is. Throughout the history of the world, humans have always had much to heal from because of the terrible things evil people do, especially to children. No race is innocent, no culture is innocent, no country is innocent, no religion is innocent because in each a single similarity remains: the human factor. Either through the unnatural desires as defined in the seven deadly sins, though apathy, or willful ignorance the Earth will never be completely Heaven or Hell because in the end Faith Hope and Love are inextinguishable lights shining in the darkness, forever pulling our free will to focus in it's direction.

  13. What is this "author" that can't even articulate and express himself? What a dumb idiot. Shut the fuсk up with the slavery already, you imbecil inbred morons. My whole damn country was enslaved for 500 years, and no one is bitching about it. Black people are such a whiny bunch. Now you insult a literature classic? Go fuсk off you wanker, how many great literature classics do black people have? How many scientific inventions? Here's the inferiority complex. Idiots.

  14. There was a 'reform school' not far from where I grew up. Young people being by raised by an uncaring, unloving unfeeling institution – like orphans, but less. Most of them wound up in prison. Why not? That's how 'we' raised them. 😔

  15. Magic puppy who gets lost… Is he talking avout 'Roverandom' by Tolkien? That one was cute. I might need to reread it after 'Nickle Boys'

  16. OK, I'm not American and I had no idea about any of the real life events that inspired this novel, but reading the AGDS Wikipedia page I found this:

    "Because of questions about the number of deaths at the school and a high number of unmarked graves, the state authorized a forensic anthropology survey by University of South Florida in 2012. They identified 55 burials on the grounds, most outside the cemetery, and documented nearly 100 deaths at the school. The state said it did not have authority to allow exhumation of graves, which would permit determination of cause of death and identification of remains. (In addition it wanted to sell land on the property.) A family member of a student who died at the school in 1934, and who wanted to reinter his remains, filed suit and gained an injunction against the state's moving ahead with the sale before remains could be exhumed and identified."

    I… I…

    "The state said it did not have authority to allow exhumation of graves, which would permit determination of cause of death and identification of remains."

    I mean, it kinda goes without saying but WHAT THE FUCK FLORIDA.

  17. Oh & PS, Terra never burnt down. 🙂 I highly recommend actually reading Gone With the Wind to all. Keep in mind the horrific industrial pre-union sweatshops & the Native American genocide happening simultaneously in the North. History is inconveniently complex, but empathy & restorative justice is universally useful & morally strengthening.

  18. This is about a well-known boys' reform school in Mariana, Florida, near Tallahassee. I know it well. Grew up in Fla. And what finally came out about the reality of it was so completely sickening and morally wrong. It was for white and black boys both. I think there were actually more white boys there. Awful

  19. You should have gone to Mariana, Florida just to see this setting. It was appalling even while it was still open. You just knew.

  20. This book was like being kicked in the gut. But, what's good about it is that it doesn't just turn into torture p o rn like some things do. It has horrific things in it but also a very well written and well constructed story.

  21. Man, why can't there be just one serial killer who targets those who hurt children? But more than a serial killer, more like a kidnapper who takes them to a remote location and forces them to stay alive with forced feedings and suicide watch and a doctor to keep them alive and just make them spend decades in torture? Somebody must be willing to pay for that.

  22. Not to take away from the sober topic (I'm definitely going to read the book), but when he first started talking about the character Elwood I thought he was talking about Elle Woods from Legally Blonde and I can't believe no one else has commented about the similarity.

  23. We need more books like this showing how every white American is racist because of slavery a hundred and fifty years ago. We do not need to tell anyone how slavery still exist in Africa today with an estimated 9 million slaves and as a black man in America you are 40 times more likely to get killed by another black man than a racist white man. it is important to know facts about history it is also important you report all the facts and not just ones that make your case look the strongest it is important to remember that only an estimated 5% of slaves are roughly 600,000 out of the 12 million we're brought to North America. I wish when the slaves were freed they killed all the slave owners and Masters in my opinion they would have been Justified

  24. Florida State Gov't
    Criminal Justice system
    Academia in general
    Corporate publishing industry
    Fake news on cable TV
    Social media

    Out of these 5 entities, which one has EVER contributed to helping black folks secure a coherent, fact-based account of our history, our past, or our hertitage?

    Okay, knowing that, how much sense does is make to react to this story without first questioning its sources and underlying purpose.

    BTW, I will thank well-meaning white folks and white adjacent immigrants 👀 to remember that I'm mot talking to you. I'm looking for responses from my BLACK American-born people ONLY.

  25. "They should burn your fucking house down, your a fucking slaver"

    God and all his children know that that statement is right and just.

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