Alex D. Pate

Alex D. Pate
West Of Rehoboth

Interviewed by: Lauretta Pierce
April 2002

1. Who is Alex D. Pate?

Defining oneself is, perhaps, the hardest thing to do in life. In fact, that is, in a way, what life is all about. But on some level, I feel that my work provides a lot of information about who I am. If you read my novels, essays, poems, etc, you will discover someone who is passionate about the art of story telling. Someone who believes that art should strive to save lives, liberate people, challenge stereotypes and so forth. Reflected in my writing you will, I hope, see someone who has spent an inordinate amount of time interrogating myself, my values and behaviors as well as those of the people around me--and who continues to learn what it means to be African American and male. You would see that I am currently fixated on the idea of "home" and on the concepts of "guilt" and "innocence" (particularly as it relates to black men. My journey has been circuitous to be sure.

I'm currently Assistant Professor of African and African American Studies at the University of Minnesota. I've been entrepreneur, corporate manager, freelance writer, sailor, cab driver and various other things. Sometimes I think that flowing words precede blood in my veins. I live (other than teaching and public appearances) a rather quiet, isolated life (as do many writers) and for the most part I love it. I've done my share of dirt, but right now, at this stage of my life, I can say that I live a life of goodness. The only damage I do now is on the page.

2. What inspired you to write the novel "West of Rehoboth"?

I think I have a list of stories in my head. Stories about people I've known, places I've been and definitely about circumstances I've witnessed or experienced. After I finished The Multicultiboho Sideshow I just knew it was time to turn my attention to Rehoboth Beach. When I was a kid, my family went there, as do Edward's (in the novel) for summer vacation. The environment of mystery and excitement that Rehoboth was for me is revealed in Edward's voice. Being in Rehoboth during that time was one of the ways I was exposed to Jim Crow racism. I saw the damage done to black people and the way that damage was reflected in their lives. Even in a place that was, for the most part, idyllic, beautiful and by definition a resort, there was no getting around the fact that black folks were marginalized. I had to write about it.

3. How did you come about the plot for "West of Rehoboth?

The "plot" is completely made up. I knew WHO I wanted to write about. The story just sort of grew around them. I knew I wanted Rufus and Edward to deal with each other and I knew I wanted to represent them as "innocence" and "guilt". So the question that confronted me was what was the best set of situations to bring these two characters together and provide the level of tension that every good story has to have?

4. How did you come about the heartfelt character Rufus?

There are so many black men who remind me of Rufus. I simply tried to depict a man who was down and out. A man who'd made lots of bad decisions. Indeed a man who almost never made the right choices. But a man who, nonetheless was sensitive, feeling and who under different circumstances would have had a different life.

5. How did you come about the Edward's character?

Well, again, I wanted to create a character who was believeable but who wasn't stereotyped just because he lived in the 'hood. In fact I wanted Edward's character to say that just because a young black boy is born in the hood doesn't mean that he doesn't think, doesn't read and isn't curious in the same way that any American kid might be.

6. Is there any of your personality in Edward or Rufus?

I find myself in both of these characters. That sense of inevitable disaster that permeates Rufus' life and the desire for understanding and clarity in Edwards are both a part of me. I think any good character always holds some of the author in them.

7. Was it because Edward was slipping in and out of conscience and Rufus was talking to him the reason Edward felt he was visiting Rufus pass?

For me, fiction is the one place where anything can happen. The spirits of people are not confined to their human containers and miracles can happen. When Edward slips into unconsciousness I simply pose this question: Who is to say that in this one moment, that Rufus cannot reach Edward and snatch him out of his painful reality and transport him to a place where Rufus' life is revealed? This is the beginning of Rufus' redemption. Magic is all around us and I try to capture some of it in my novels. Things happen which defy rational explanation but are plausible nonetheless.

8. How did you come about Edna's character?

I knew Edna. As a child I did actually spend my summers in Rehoboth Beach and there was an Edna there who I got to know. And, from the time I started writing seriously I began sketching out her character.

9. How long did it take you to write "West of Rehoboth"?

Believe it or not, I've been writing this novel (which began as short stories) since the mid-seventies. I'd work on it awhile then put it away for years. When I published Amistad I knew the time had come to pull it out and finish it.

10. Are you currently working on another novel?

Yes, right now there are two literary book ideas in my head and in pieces in my computer. One is a novel tentatively called, The Untold Adventures of the Black Arrow which is about a black pirate captain. A literary swashbuckler if you will. And the second project, The Past is Perfect: Memoir of a Father/Son Reunion, is a short memoir about my relationship with my son.

11. What type of atmosphere do you require to write?

My life is pretty quiet. I teach and then retreat to my house. There I strive to create a kind of serenity, a sense of safety that allows me to drift into my created worlds. I write late at night. I often don't go to bed before sunlight, after having worked all night. Indeed, as I write this, it is 4:30 am and it might explain why the latter questions are answered more briefly. My time at the keyboard for this night is drawing to an end. I often watch taped basketball games as a background to my writing. That or something strong from my music collection.

12. What message would you like your readers to receive from reading "West of Rehoboth"?

There are men who you pass on the street who might seem to be almost inhuman...but understand that they are indeed quite human. They have stories. That have lives. And we should care more about them.