TaraShea Nesbit on What We Don’t Talk About in the Plymouth Narrative
In Conversation with Mitzi Rapkin on the First Draft Podcast
First Draft: A Dialogue of Writing is a weekly show featuring in-depth interviews with fiction, nonfiction, essay writers, and poets, highlighting the voices of writers as they discuss their work, their craft, and the literary arts. Hosted by Mitzi Rapkin, First Draft celebrates creative writing and the individuals who are dedicated to bringing their carefully chosen words to print as well as the impact writers have on the world we live in.
From the episode:
Mitzi Rapkin: I thought it was interesting that the financial part of the history that in some ways the Puritans were almost like a product. They were sent over there. Yes, they had investors, but they were investing in them. They had to produce, they had that pressure, which was an interesting way to look at them as a society.
TaraShea Nesbit: Yeah, they did. There’s a lot to say about that because they didn’t have to sign up for debt, but they did. The Dutch offered to take them on a free passage to New Amsterdam near the Hudson River and they declined because Bradford said, we would still be amongst the Dutch and then of course, we would still owe them something. So, he declined the free passage in exchange for a significant amount of debt, but to retain whatever it was he appreciated about Englishness. And it struck me too, that there was this financial liaison.
There was Thomas Westin who signed up a bunch of kids, the youngest was four, to be indentured servants to the Puritans. I don’t know how much the Puritans knew that they were getting on the ship and they were going to be caretakers for a bunch of kids whose mother did not even know where they were or why they were there. And I think that sense of debt also fueled things like the elders would make these pamphlets to send back to England advertising how abundant the soil was, and the fish and all of the wood you could send back… But it was really falsely advertising because in fact, they were on infertile rocky soil. You needed to know how to fertilize it well and it wasn’t as great as what they were advertising but they needed more people to come to the colony, which would help them produce more, to sell more, to pay off their debt faster.
It’s a different narrative, if we say we’re a country that’s founded on debt, xenophobia, a want for economic gain, and a sense that the way that we are as a community is the right way and we don’t let anyone else in and of course, I’m saying this with the caveat that this is only one small narrative of the whole country, but that’s one that we are all asked to perform and reenact in elementary schools, which is a great time to have us reenact it because then we forget to question it or are a little too young to question it. There’s something off about those narratives. I’m just struck by how much has consistently been left out of those stories.
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TaraShea Nesbit is a writer and teacher. Her second novel, Beheld, is a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice and an Indies Next Pick for April 2020. Her first novel, The Wives of Los Alamos, was a finalist for the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize, a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice, a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Selection, and winner of two New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards. She is an assistant professor of fiction and nonfiction at Miami University.