A Life of Books with Mateo Askaripour, author of Black Buck

In Black Buck, Mateo Askaripour uses a gregarious Black salesman in an all white company to satirically take down corporate America. Through sharp-witted humor and a lot of heart, Askaripour sheds light on the microaggressions and blatant racism Black men and women go through on a daily basis.

The book has been praised by everyone from Publishers Weekly to The Today Show and was one of Debutiful‘s best debuts to read this month.

Below, Mateo Askaripour answered A Life of Books, Debutiful‘s ongoing questionnaire to better get to know writers and what inspires them.

Is there a book or series that, when you think back, helped define your childhood?

No, not really. But I do have a memory: I was three, sitting on my bed in my mother or grandmother’s lap, with my infant brother next to me, and being asked to read from Clifford the Big Red Dog. That memory, of my mother or grandmother, after a long day, taking the time to help me read, is embedded in my DNA.

My mother and grandmother fostered a love of the written word in me and my four brothers, and whether it was reading Frog and Toad––which is perhaps the first time I saw two beings of the same sex loving each other in such a profound and real way––or being scared shitless by the Left Behind series, I’ve always had a meaningful relationship with literature, even if that relationship has been on and off throughout my life.

Would you want any children in your life (yours or relatives’) to read those too? Or what’s your philosophy on what children read?

Most definitely, but also other books with more Black and brown children, teenagers, and adults. When I was a kid, it never occured to me that I was missing out on anything by reading all of these books about animals, white kids, and people––it felt just as normal as looking at one of my mother’s cookbooks and seeing a white woman smiling with a casserole in her hand, even though that shit looked nasty as hell!

When it comes to what children read, I think they should read widely, of course, but if we’re talking Black and brown children, they should begin with reading books that reflect themselves back to them instead of some arbitrary, white standard.

Moving to your school years: what book did you read in high school and hated (or skipped reading at all) that you learned you loved later in life?

I don’t remember hating any book that I read in high school. We read a lot of white writers––John Steinbeck, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Shakespeare––but I honestly enjoyed those. Fortunately, we also read books like The Bluest Eye, but that’s really the only Black book I can remember reading in high school, which is criminal. Still, it was also in high school that I was introduced to Kurt Vonnegut, through his short story, “Harrison Bergeron,” which still has its hold on me today. 

What about the opposite way? One you loved in your teens, but realized you didn’t love it so much later on?

Nothing comes to mind for this one, probably because I haven’t revisited any books that I read as a teenager. That’s something I want to be better about, though––rereading my favorite books. I’ve only reread a handful of books, which I know people may ostracize me for, but life is short and the list of books I want to read is long, so let me live.

Are there any books that you read while writing your debut that helped shape the direction you took your own book?

Without a doubt. If He Hollers Let Him Go, Behold the Dreamers, To Sell is Human, Black Docker, Pimp, If Beale Street Could Talk, The Angry Ones, The Residue Years, and The Intuitionist are a few. Those books shaped my writing in countless ways, ranging from helping me better understand voice to being inspired enough to come to the page every day with the requisite amount of energy, confidence, and desire to turn my ideas into reality by any means necessary.

Before beginning my debut, I read The Sellout, which played a large role in opening up my eyes to what was possible in fiction.

What is a book you’ve read that you thought, Damn, I wish that was mine?

Whoa! This is a good one. I know you only asked for one, but three that come to mind are: Americanah, Portnoy’s Complaint, and A Different Drummer. The opening pages of each made me close my eyes, shake my head in disbelief, and think, “YO! WHAT?!”

What books helped get you through quarantining and social distancing during 2020?

How Much of These Hills is Gold is one, for sure. It took me on a journey that’s hard to forget. 

The Spook Who Sat by the Door is another. I felt as though the author, Sam Greenlee, and I were having a one-on-one conversation, and that he was saying, “See? Shit was crazy back in 1969 when my book came out, and shit is still crazy now, get to work.” 

And just so I don’t exhaust you with book upon book, I’ll end with Leave the World Behind. I enjoyed it for many reasons, with the main one being that I don’t usually read thrillers, especially ones that aren’t fast-paced, so I had to work a little bit to get into it, and it paid off.

And, finally, I have to ask… I’m sorry. What’s next? But wait! Only use three words.

Promo. Readers. Joy.

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