Atiba Madyun Talks About the Cultural Change of Washington, DC in His New Book "Saving Grace"
After years of political involvement as a consultant and an educator of public policy, Atiba Madyun, invites us into a fictional world that explores the depraved realities in government in his first novel, Saving Grace. The suspense thriller is one man’s plight of discovery to expose the truth behind the mysterious murders of residents in a metropolitan neighborhood for arbitrary social gains. Although fictional, Madyun’s book comes at a perfect time where one can see the shared parallels in messaging of how political figures rise as the communities they are meant to protect fail.
Here’s what Atiba had to say about writing Saving Grace and he explains how DC is losing its cultural integrity.
How long have you been writing?
If you are referring to my novel, it took nearly 20 years from the time I typed the first word to when I published the story. Getting the story down took a few years, but getting it to a point where I was comfortable letting it go took longer than I expected. So, I guess I've been writing for a long time.
How did you come up with the title of your book?
That's a good question. I cannot recall what the reasoning was for picking my character's name. I just always liked the name, Anthony. After that, the last name grace seemed to fit with the nature of the story, thus Saving Grace made sense. I went through a period of changing it to, By Grace, since it is told in the first person. In the end, Saving Grace fit best.
There is a lot of meaning behind the word "grace" that I feel apply to the story and will have more significance should the reader stay with the book series. My favorite form of the word is a short prayer of thanks, but other meanings fall into the story.
Like elegance and or refined movement. A person moves through the water with effortless grace. Or, Grace means, courteous goodwill—someone bowing out of a game, or commitment, gracefully. Someone can give someone a grace period. There is the form of honor, addressing someone like a duke or duchess, and finally, there is the attractive presence of a person or a thing, as in someone graced the front pages of a magazine.
How has living in Washington DC changed over the years?
Like many other cities, DC has changed culturally, as well as aesthetically over the years. Many call it gentrification. Recently, I've been working with director Mignotae Kebebe, who directed the documentary film, "What Happened to Chocolate City."
The film interviews three generations of Washingtonians, and through it, as well as through the research I did for my book, I have learned about laws that have historically disenfranchised its residents. Gentrification goes back long before D.C. was even established as a city, starting when John Smith first came to the area and took land from the Native Americans on the Anacostia River.It feels like, throughout my life, Washington, D.C., lost its neighborhoods' cultural integrity. Once thriving African American communities and homes are being replaced with multi-unit buildings. While the city has grown by over 100,000 residents in less than twenty years, it's become more transient than ever. My good friend Patrick says, "It's becoming a childless city," and I can't help but agree as it feels with every passing year the city loses more of its soul.
What are your thoughts on the political landscape of 2020?
This is a loaded question. I think the political landscape of 2020 can be summed up by a campaign that my company Party Politics U.S. launched last year, "2020 Fucking Matters". For starters, we are amid a pandemic, claiming people's lives on a global scale, and it didn't have to be this way.
I do think it's a sign of what we need to do for the future. Showing us that as bad as this seems, if we can look and listen to our problems with an open heart, we can learn how our actions or inactions (for instance, not voting as a collective) led to this situation in our country. It is a sign for us to stop putting the material world before the spiritual one, stop blindly, putting our faith in elected officials, and put that faith in God and ourselves.
If we keep fighting, I believe there is hope on the political landscape in 2020. There's an opportunity to reprioritize what's important. There are nurses, doctors, caregivers, bus drivers, teachers, grocery store workers, service industry employees, and drug store attendants who are fighting aren't paid what they deserve while risking their lives on the frontline.
I believe we shouldn't just applaud them. We should pay them higher wages. It may not be the answer you were looking for, but the 2020 landscape is about refocusing our priorities. It is about reshaping the world to work more for people and less for those taking from the poor to give to their small gang of wealthy friends.
What is the most challenging part about writing for you?
There is nothing complicated about writing for me. If I could live comfortably as a writer traveling the world, spending days combining my passions of researching history and writing stories, I would be off in a heartbeat living my best life.
The more complicated part of writing is getting those around me to understand. I have to go to a special place to create my stories. Like actors, I put myself in the setting that I'm creating, and in some ways, become the characters I am writing about. This can be difficult for those around me, because I zone out, and can be temperamental if someone invades that space. It can last for hours, maybe longer, and I still can't get enough despite all of this. I love writing and bringing myself to that place.
Are you working on anything at the present that you would like to share with me?
I am working on "Chasing Spence," the second book in the Grace trilogy. "Saving Grace," the first book of the series, was written much like a television series. You can get lost in binge-reading, which anyone who reads it will the attest. Like any good series, there's more story to tell. Thankfully, a small group has read the draft, and I'm excited to say, so far, they say it's better than the first!
What do you like to do when you are not writing or reading?
Outside of spending time with my family, I love traveling and dancing. Seeing new places, exploring its history, meeting new people, tasting new foods, and being exposed to new cultures has always been something I find mesmerizing and love getting lost in. Nothing compares to feeling the heartbeat of a city, getting lost, and dancing the night away.
Order your copy of Saving Grace here.