Windy City Times interviewed the Jason Leclerc, author of the new novel Black Kettle. Leclerc is a renowned poet, blogger, filmmaker and political columnist for the LGBT publication The Watermark in Orlando.
Black Kettle, according to press, " explores the many manifestations of hope and deceit in the human experience."
Windy City Times: How would you describe this collection of storiesthe elevator pitch, if you will? What would you say if asked what Black Kettle is about?
Jason Leclerc: Black Kettle is a collection of stories that retell the story of hypocrisy. It's short stories that retell in their entirety the story of Black Kettlle, a Cheyenne Indian chief who is betrayed by the Americans in the 1850s and '60s. He was a peaceful Cheyenne and just happened to be alive in the time the Americans were taking over the North American continent.
So, as manifest destiny drew the white man West for gold and riches, the Native Americans became more of an obstacle. Basically, Black Kettle said, treaty after treaty, he would move himself and his people to smaller and smaller, less fertile [land that was] farther away from buffalountil they wound up on a little reservation on Sand Creek. During that time of being pushed around, he and some other leaders actually went out and met with Abraham Lincoln, who had his own problems with people betraying their word.
Lincoln said, "I believe you are peaceful. Here is an American flag. If the Americans mess with you any more, raise this flag over your teepee and they'll know to stand down." Meanwhile, the army attachment, led by a guy named Chivington, kept on saying, "We'll make peace with you"but organized an ambush on Sand Creek. Black Kettle raised the flag up over his teepee and the American Army, a rogue detachment in a lot of ways, did not stand down and wound up killing a lot of the folks of that tribe. Black Kettle survived but it became known as the Sand Creek massacre. So this is the backbone of the idea of "words failing" and it raises awareness of the theme that pervades that words fail. That we are all hypocrites, in a way.
WCT: You seem to be exploring some themes in these stories, one of which is perception or how we see our world, either with your eyes or with touch. Can you explain why you like to write about that?
JL: In much the same way that words fail us but words are our way of expressing our feelings or sensations, the sum of our experiences. Our experiences are derived from sight, sound, touch, taste, smellright? We get caught up three of four steps down the line. Your ideals are wrong. If we back that up with how you sense or experience the world, you are not necessarily wrong. You just have a different set of experiences that inform your sense of right/wrong or truth/fiction good/evil. In the first essay, "Staring Into the Sun," I take that to an extreme"What if I couldn't see? How does that change my perception of the world?"yet if you become blind you get to know the world in a different, if not better, way. What that really leads to is the hope that you can find some commonality you might not otherwise come to in the world.
WCT: The title Black Kettle: It seems to me you not only are using this title as an explanation of a Native American tribal leader who was betrayed but symbolism of perhaps racist on inaccurate language. A pot calling the kettle black is a negative phrase, but really both are only useful if they get black. It's a misnomer. Am I far off?
JL: That's a beautiful observation. The phrase originally usedthe first time we find it in historical literatureis the story of Don Quixote. How can you judge me when you are the same as me? And you are spot-on; that it's not something a lot of people have thought about. We use that phrase flippantly. Really, that fry pan or skillet or cast-iron vessel we use to cook or prepare food or some sort of magical incantationyou know it's really been used and done its work if it's black. If it's covered with soot on the inside. The thing about that is the metal takes on the remnants and residue of all the things that have touched it, that have been used in it. It's a beautiful metaphor for race and skin color at a topical level.
WCT: One story, "Sand Creek," seemed to be a comment on how we sanitize past atrocities. Is that what you were exploring? We first ignored them and now we make parks for vacation. It seems very American.
JL: I would say that is 88 percent of what I was saying. Clearly, it is the most obvious retelling of the story of Black Kettle, the massacre. [There is] that awkward person who is peaceful and artistic and seeking out beauty in the world and wanting to build things constantly rebuffed and misunderstood.
As to the broader question of sanitizing our history, I think that is something that is human but certainly something we see around us in America. At one moment, [we] celebrate Martin Luther King as a great historical leader who stood up to persecution and unfairness and who looked white America in the face saying, "I want peace"and white America can murder him. We did this over and over and over again, but yet we celebrate him as a martyr.
WCT: What are you working on next? Do some of the same themes repeating themselves and will they connect to these works and your previous novel?
JL: I've got to admit I started my next project before Donald Trump was a candidate for president. My next story is based on the biblical story of Jericho, which is all about walls and trumpets. I think it's going to be a really timely collection. I'm really excited about it.
The story of Black Kettle is bumped up against Sodom and Gomorrah, The first book, Momentitiousness, was bumped up against the Adam and Eve story and, so, the next big story in the bible is Jericho. It will be fictionalized through many different lenses.
Black Kettle is available at local LGBT booksellers or Amazon.com .