Former Mizzou student Gabriel Bump debuted his first book, Everywhere You Don't Belong, earlier in February. Bump's novel focuses on the social and racial pressures many African American men experience through the main character Claude McKay Love. Bump will visit Skylark Bookshop on Feb. 12 to speak about his book.
Vox editor, Katherine Stater, talked with Bump about his book, his return to Columbia and his writing process.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What is your book about?
Well it's a coming of age story set in Southside Chicago. It begins in Chicago and then follows a narrator into early adulthood when he goes to college in Missouri. It's about kind of an average kid and an average person of color trying to find out his place in America — in his hometown and then in a larger context — how he, and other people like him, fit into society. I think that the narrator, Claude McKay Love, is interesting because a young people of color can be forced by society — and then maybe people close around them — to kind of be exceptional, kind of like rise above their station and and be a role model, right? So the reason this narrator is interesting to me, and why I felt it was worth a novel is because he's not an exceptional person in traditional ways. He's not exceptionally bright or athletic. But he's exceptional. And I think in smaller ways, like exceptionally kind, and empathetic, maybe smaller ways isn't the best way to describe it, but ways I think are also significant. But maybe society doesn't value as much as other things.
Does the novel contain autobiographical elements?
Not particularly. I think there's some inspiration for my own life's work. It mostly takes place in the neighborhood I grew up in: South Shore, Chicago. And, like the narrator, I went to school at the University of Missouri. It's not referred to as that in the book, but it's something modeled off of the University of Missouri. And that's pretty much where the similarities end I guess, but maybe look at other plot markers, such as he wants to be like a journalist for different reasons than I wanted to be a journalist and initially enrolled in the school of journalism. And I think those would be the only real similarities with my life.
Is that why you chose to include Columbia as a setting in the novel?
I feel like it was important for the narrator to leave Chicago. And see what the world is like outside of Chicago. And I think with a lot of people like, Claude, that grow up in the city and end up leaving for college, the culture shift can be jarring and interesting and worth exploring. Just like I felt, going from Chicago to Columbia was interesting.
What inspired you to write this book?
Well, I wrote for my high school newspaper and from a somewhat young age was interested in writing. I wanted to initially be a journalist — a sports writer, or like a blend between sports writing and social commentary. When I got to Mizzou and I didn't think that traditional reporting was the right fit for me or where my real interest lies. So, I switched my major after my freshman year to sociology and took some creative writing classes and literature classes. I was encouraged by professors to see what I could do with it and just seemed to have kind of a knack for it. From there, I ended up transferring from Mizzou after my sophomore year and studied at the Art Institute of Chicago. I just majored in writing and kept messing around with with short stories and such. I received more encouragement from professors in Chicago and ended up applying to grad school after my senior year. I went and just kind of realized I was working on this novel. So the early stages of this novel were created in undergrad, and I got the first draft done in graduate school. The goal is always just to mess around with this question of belonging that I was dealing with after moving around since I left Chicago: where do I fit in the world? I was really interested in and was energized by that and the book just came together. I liked writing and want to keep doing it. I was fortunate enough to put something together.
Why did you decide to include Columbia on your book tour?
Oh, well, I met Carrie, one of the booksellers at Skylark at a convention in Cleveland, along with with some other ones. And it seemed natural that I would come down to Colombia, because I spent some time down there and a half of the book takes place in it and the place is modeled after Columbia. It's not a place that people often write about it. It's an interesting place.
Do you have any advice for young or aspiring authors?
Well, I guess just that the process is pretty hard like for a lot of reasons. One is you have to put yourself out there to make to make good writing, certainly to make great writing. You have to kind of step outside yourself. Book writing takes a lot of time. It's a really slow process. I know that when I was young in particular, there's a sense of urgency with young writers. You want everything to happen fast, because you're young and you haven't lived. Much of the time seems, I think, a little bit shorter when we're young. This craft takes a lot of time, I started writing this book eight years ago and there were various stages where I wanted it to be done. Along the way you get various forms of rejection, and then fighting through rejection is probably hard but everyone has to do it. I found a lot of stuff I love about fiction and writing, but I didn't necessarily (know) in the beginning. I was just messing with words on the page.