In an hour-long, wide-ranging virtual discussion hosted by Square Books, author Maurice Carlos Ruffin discussed his latest work – a collection of short stories, entitled “The Ones Who Don’t Say They Love You” – with fellow author and Jackson native, Kiese Laymon. In addition to discussing the collection, Ruffin and Laymon also discussed their respective artistic processes, attempting to write stories from intuition, and the timeliness of Ruffin’s novelistic insights, whilst answering audience questions throughout.
“The Ones Who Don’t Say They Love You” serves as both unique and familiar territory for Ruffin. Unique in its stylistic approach, – six different storylines – but familiar in its ideas, as Ruffin continues a thematic artistic lineage he has been reconciling with for quite some time, spearheaded in his 2019 novel, “We Cast A Shadow.” Once again, Ruffin deftly weaves themes of racism, bigotry and those ostracized to societal margins, with his native city of New Orleans serving as a vital backdrop.
Like all great artists, Ruffin holds his hometown, and memories associated with his hometown, dear to his heart, yet is able to confidently keep a personal distance from ‘The Big Easy
“It’s not my book. It’s my city’s book,” Ruffin said.
Through this perception, Ruffin is able to breed universality out of specificity, with the collection charting various cultural and political eras, from the 1860s to the 1970s, yet, as he eloquently expresses, he “has known these people his entire life,” regardless of the confines of the specific era.
Furthermore, Ruffin uses his specific insights to fulfill his particular authorship mission: to tell the stories of individuals not being told.
“You cannot talk about New Orleans without talking about blackness and queerness,” Ruffin said.
In conjunction with this notion, Laymon admiringly exclaimed, “Are you afraid of trying anything?”
Through the collection, and his entire catalogue, Ruffin vows for others to see themselves in any given characters’s shoes, fearlessly utilizing a multitude of literary techniques and storytelling modes in tandem with his relevant socio-political text/subtext; what he describes as a “Neo-realist story of New Orleans black folks.”
To achieve a goal of artistic realism, Ruffin characterizes his writing as purely built out of intuition, opting not to outline or pre-impose where the narrative is heading, in hopes of “finding something [he] didn’t expect to find.”
In a related question about the creative process, Ruffin described writing both in and outside of New Orleans, and how the latter allowed a creative freedom he had seldom experienced. Currently, Ruffin remains outside of New Orleans once again, as he is safely taking residence in Jackson as a result of Hurricane Ida. Despite this, he is working diligently to promote his new book.
“The Ones Who Don’t Say They Love You” is now available in hardcover. Signed bookplate editions are available at Square Books in Oxford and on their website. Ruffin is currently working on a new novel.