R. Eric Thomas: ‘Don’t Bleed All Over the Congregation’
The Author of Here For It With Maris Kreizman
On choosing the moments that go into a memoir:
Maris Kreizman: Your memoir collection is very much about figuring out who you are and being comfortable with who you are. That was a process. How do you choose the moments from your life that make the meat of the book and are the examples?
R. Eric Thomas: I think half of the moments started off as moments that I felt were ripe for comedy or tragedy that didn’t feel unresolved. There are plenty of things that I wouldn’t consider putting into this book. For a little bit of time I thought, am I not a brave enough writer? Should I just open a vein? My husband is a pastor, and he learned from another colleague years ago to use a lot of personal reflections in their sermons but he said not to bleed all over the congregation. That’s his way of thinking. If he hasn’t resolved it or it’s something that’s too messy it doesn’t go out to the larger body.
On his fear of the term “memoir”:
R. Eric Thomas: I really pushed making the collection chronological because I was very afraid of the term “memoir” in general because I felt that I had to justify why someone should care what happened in my life. I read memoir all the time, and I know it’s people’s stories.
Maris Kreizman: And if you write it well, people will want to read it. That’s a plug for your book right here.
R. Eric Thomas: I didn’t get it. I would talk about it in therapy every week. Brian, my therapist, god bless him.
Maris Kreizman: He’s the first person you thanked in your acknowledgements?
R. Eric Thomas: Well, the first person I thanked was Beyonce. [laughs] I loved that you read the acknowledgements.
Maris Kreizman: That’s my favorite part.
On his use of fun pseudonyms in his essays:
R. Eric Thomas: I didn’t come to settle a score. I thought about it. In one essay, I talk about a classmate that called me the N-word. I ultimately get to a point where my reaction and my experience is not being put on trial, and that incident isn’t being used to define me. That was huge for me, textually and psychologically. This is my story. It’s not the N-word story or the time that I realized that I would be some other class. It’s a story that I’m using to illustrate who I am, and therefore I want to be in the light. The names that I give to these kids … bad guys or good guys? Who cares. It’s my narrative. I control it. I name the names. I say when it’s over.
R. Eric Thomas is a senior staff writer at Elle online where he has written the daily pop culture and politics humor column “Eric Reads the News” since 2016. As a playwright, his work has been staged around the country. Off the page, he’s the long-running host of The Moth StorySlams in Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia. He lives in Baltimore with his husband, the Reverend David Norse Thomas. Here for It is his first book.