On Wednesday, Oct. 6, novelist Gabriel Bump hosted the Kelly Writers Series event in Thompson Recital Hall, his first in-person press event in two years. The talk focused on Bump’s debut novel “Everywhere You Don’t Belong,” published in 2020, which was named a New York Times Book Review Notable Book of 2020 and received the Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence, the Great Lakes Colleges Association New Writers Award for Fiction, the Black Caucus of the American Library Association's First Novelist Award and more.
The book follows Claude McKay Love, a child abandoned by his parents and brought up by his spirited grandmother, later pursuing his dream in journalism after going through many highs and lows in family life and friendships. “There’s a lot of me in this book. What’s happening to the characters on the inside I pulled from myself and put on the page,” Bump said.
At the beginning of the talk, Bump read the book’s second chapter, “Fog.”
“One reason I like starting with this and reading this is that it was actually the first thing of the book that I wrote, I wrote it as part of my undergraduate thesis. I wrote something and felt good and felt clear and I just kept writing it, I didn’t have to really change that much,” Bump said.
The chapter explored Claude’s life while living with his parents. Bump then shared the final page of his book, which mainly focused on the brief description of the book’s content. He described this page as “special” because it was the last piece of the book that he wrote and he decided to add this page when the book was about to go to be printed.
Following the reading, attendees were invited to participate in a Q&A session, in which Bump gave insight into his writing process, freewriting, literary influences, and challenges he’s faced in his career. “The book came out when I was 29, and I started writing it when I was 20, so nine years, a third of my life. But the work was mostly done when I was in my grad school,” Bump said.
He continued saying: “I write about something I like to write about. I wanted to write a novel that took place in South Shore because I had never read a book that took place in South Shore. I think writing is easier if you write in the settings that you are familiar with,” Bump said.
He expressed that free-writing was a way for him to elevate ideas and let emotions flow in his writing process. He also believed that writers can always surprise themselves whenever free-writing.
When asked about how he thought the readers would react to his book, Bump said, “As artists, we can’t think about the legacy while writing. We just write about the things that feel right to us.”
According to Bump, writing in general was challenging throughout the years. “Not giving up, I think it’s a challenge. Writing a book is hard, giving up is easy. At some points, I felt like giving up was just a little bit easier than writing a book. But there were years when writing was so hard,” Bump said.
The event was funny, impactful and impressive, according to first-year Aubrey Bower when asked about the Kelly Writers Series.
“The Q&A was super insightful. It was interesting to hear about how his own experiences related to the characters and places within the book. I liked how he talked about his creativity flowing and him capitalizing on that to write his novel,” Bower said.
First-year Nam Hoang added, “I found the speaker series with Gabriel Bump really interesting, not only for his great insight and reflection on his book but also his suggestion and sharing on how he could manage time to work on his writing in the most productive and effective way.”
Bump ended the talk with his all time favorite quote. “I was never writing a book, I was writing stories,” he said.