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The Rumpus Interview with Adam Braver

The Rumpus Interview with Adam Braver

By Jennifer Bowen Hicks | June 6th, 2013 | published on

Adam Braver is a novelist, professor, and human rights activist, though not always in that order. Braver and his students at Roger Williams University work with PEN America as case minders for prisoners of conscience around the world. One of the men Braver and his students worked to free was Cuban journalist and political prisoner, Normando Hernández González. Normando was incarcerated, along with seventy-five other journalists, during Cuba’s “Black Spring” of 2003. He served seven years of a twenty-five-year sentence, during which time he endured abuse, malnutrition, and life-threatening medical setbacks.

Thanks in part to Braver and his students’ efforts, Normando was released and exiled in Spain, where Braver and co-author Molly Gessford conducted an extended interview. The result is the delicate and haunting book, The Madrid Conversations.

Braver and I recently spoke about The Madrid Conversations, as well as the intersection between politics and writing. We talked about free expression, his written work, and Normando, the wrongly imprisoned man who is finally free. Whether manifest in an interview or a novel, Braver’s empathy is laser focused on an individual’s humanity. When discussing his historical fiction—Misfit and November 22, 1963—Braver says he tries to maintain deep loyalty to the  “person inside the character.” It’s clear he’s equally determined to honor the man inside the dissident.


The Rumpus: How did you get involved with Normando’s case?

Adam Braver: I was trying to find something I could involve students with. I teach undergrads that are getting BFAs in Creative Writing, and it seemed to me what was missing for many of them was any sense of literary citizenship. While they were perfectly happy to invest in their own work and invest in themselves, they kind of missed that there was a greater community.

Rumpus: Is this something PEN typically involves undergrads in?

Braver: No. I actually called PEN and asked what I could do with students. They weren’t sure at first, but together we came up with this idea of students working as case minders. Case minders are usually just individuals volunteering. We cooked up this idea of having a whole class, ten people or so, minding one case, putting a little more effort into it. So that’s how it was born.

Rumpus: I wonder if you saw your students’ sense of urgency change. Did this work affect your students’ writing?

Braver: To some degree. I have to say that curiously enough, I started getting fewer and fewer writing students wanting to do this.

Rumpus: Interesting. Who came forward?

Braver: Often people who already had an interest in human rights work. What I did notice with all of them, even the people who professed to be interested in human rights, was that activism was somewhat a concept in their mind—a symbolic flag on the quad or something to show how many people were starving in the world. But once they saw their efforts connected to a person, I did see a change. The fact that my students could be in a little college in a little college town on the coast of Rhode Island, and be connecting in other countries with other people, did open them up and empower them and their sense of being. Whether it affected their writing, it’s hard to tell.

...Read the rest if the interview HERE.