Fragments Were What I Had Available to Me: Talking to Danielle Allen

Andy Fitch in the Los Angeles Review of Books blog:

41ve+TsMSwL._SX333_BO1 204 203 200_How to address in catalyzing prose the policy ramifications of your family’s most intimate personal struggles? How (and why) to construct a poetics of prison reform? When I want to ask such questions, I pose them to Danielle Allen. This conversation, transcribed by Phoebe Kaufman, focuses on Allen’s Cuz, a kaleidoscopic account of her cousin Michael’s life before, during, and after incarceration.

ANDY FITCH: Before we get to anything like Michael’s legal case, or treat Michael’s circumstances as a case study of broader social concerns, could you just introduce him, and maybe introduce Cuz’s “I” at the same time? Readers of your book will be charmed to hear of Michael’s smile and playful exuberance. Here could you offer some scene maybe not in the book, but which exemplifies your relationship to each other as cuz?

DANIELLE ALLEN: My time with Michael divides into two phases: first from eight to 18 for me, and from birth to 10 for him. That phase was full of ordinary joys of cousinhood in Southern California: climbing trees, playing football in the street in front of our house, riding bikes, playing with Hotwheel cars. And family holidays: food, talk, lots of football on the television. Then I left for college and Michael, his mom, his siblings, and his mother’s new husband moved to Mississippi. This is when their lives exploded, which I experienced from a distance. Then my second time with Michael ran from about 1998 until his death in 2009, so for me from age 27 to 37. We had nearly weekly phone calls for eight years, and then the intensive period together when Michael got out of prison. Michael was my closest confidante during this period. He probably heard more of my griping about work and marital woes than anyone else.

More here.