One of the best things about interviewing the poet, professor, and novelist DeMisty D. Bellinger, Ph.D., is how she drops a book recommendation into every answer. Another is the transparent manner in which she speaks of her work: her writing is so intentional that the scenes and characters seem to crawl inside the reader and live there. Once seen, the characters in Bellinger’s debut novel cannot be unseen. Released on April 19, 2022, by Unnamed Press, New to Liberty tells the stories of Sissily, Nella, and Greta, three lives sewn together by Dust Bowl-era Kansas, tragedy, and their own longings. Amy Reardon and DeMisty Bellinger spoke via phone and discussed whose experience gets centered in literature, how to give voice to the unvoiced, and Bellinger’s desire to write from questions to figure out how the world works.
New to Liberty: A Conversation with DeMisty D. Bellinger
That’s what that russet brushstroke is below the skyline—her spots lost in the open plains. That’s hunger that blurs her. We cannot see what she is chasing, but we can imagine it. Zebra. Gazelle. Impala. Antelope. The eyes of the animal large in its sockets. I like that lone acacia tree back there—it has this bonsai spirit to it. This calm. And the trio of almost imperceivable stars in the upper corner, those light pink grains, which remind me we are also traveling quick around the sun— 957 times faster than this cheetah, not to mention the speed of the sun inside the Milky Way, and the Milky Way through cold, dark, soundless space— 1.3 million mph, last time I checked. Astronomers and physicists did the math for us, but little did they know what it would do to human minds or hearts—mine is going pretty fast now, just thinking about our velocity, our spiraling out. Here, place your palm against it. Over my sticker that says Visitor.
Landscape with Cheetah Going Seventy in the Serengeti
“Name and fame,” Mohammad Sabir said in English, shouting over the noise of the traffic. Manager and occasional trumpet player for one of dozens of marching bands for hire in Kolkata, India, he was describing the glamor that once compelled families across the city to hire bands like his.
Fifty-year-old Master Sabir, as bandleaders are known, was sitting behind his desk in a pink, threadbare shirt. A goat was tied to the electricity box out front, barefoot children raced past, and, nearby,bidimakers sat chopping dried tobacco by hand. According to my phone, it was only 103 degrees, but the reported “feels like” had hovered between 118 and 125 for days, and it was sometimes hard to breathe. This was in May of 2019, halfway through Ramadan and an hour before iftar; Sabir had not eaten or taken a drink of water all day.
It was raining nonstop, and the flowing stream of rainwater collected anything it met along the dirt track. As if this apocalyptic scene weren’t savage enough for God, the rain brought with it thunderstorms and gales that threatened to uproot the streetlamp and thin cypress trees dotting the neighborhood.
It was freezing cold, and my grandmother crouched in a corner of the house near the dakhoon, which no one had lit, shivering under her black woollen shawl. From time to time, she muttered, “Oh, Mary, mother of Jesus, protect us!”
“Let’s see if he’s working now. Yes, there he is.”
Ayed heard these sentences inside the shawarma shop where he worked on Calle Elvira. As he turned around, he recalled what had been uttered just previously, in the middle of the evening rush: “Assalamu alikun, Ayed!”
“Wa ‘alaykum as-Salam. How are you, Tony?” he answered in Arabic.
Antonio, Ayed’s friend, was an amicable young man who joked quite a lot in a manner that erred on the sexual side. He also was learning Fuṣḥa at one of the many language centers in Granada. Ayed liked him for his good nature and because he was Ayed’s umbilical cord to the happenings in Granada’s nightlife. Often Tony came accompanied by one girl, or several—for the most part, tourists—to say hi to Ayed at his workplace. He would then ask him, before throwing him a knowing wink, to join them after his shift. So, Ayed was puzzled when he saw that Antonio’s escort was a lanky, short guy. The guy’s face was smeared with an obvious awkwardness, camouflaged under a half smile. The young man greeted Ayed with a nod and said, “How’re you doing?”