Radio host and commentator Tavis Smiley interviewed Clifton Taulbert, bestselling author of titles including the award-winning Once Upon a Time When We Were Colored, in early June in connection with Taulbert’s new memoir, The Invitation.
In a smart and engaging interview that you’ll wish lasted longer than its nine minutes, Smiley draws Taulbert into candid discussion about his transformative experience in South Carolina as chronicled in The Invitation. The book recounts Taulbert’s invitation to dinner at a former plantation house, about which he was immediately apprehensive, sharply evoking memories of his childhood as the son of a sharecropping family. Taulbert recounts how upon seeing the old South Carolina plantation surrounded by acres of cotton, he was immediately transported back to his days as a child in Mississippi. “[I felt] the weight of the segregated South on my shoulders as I sat in this car in the twenty-first century,” Taulbert told Smiley.
Taulbert discloses that it took him seven years to write The Invitation as he had to become “very, very honest, open, and vulnerable” with himself. “I had to say, ‘Yeah, I’ve taught at Harvard University, I’ve taught at the Air Force Academy . . . but I’ve also picked cotton, I’ve also slept on a cot that was so small you could fall off of it.'” As he describes to Smiley and also discusses in The Invitation, there is never a moment in which “the lessons of race and place” are not present. Taulbert explains that as a professional man he is proud of his accomplishments and intellectually understands that the world has changed, and for the better. But there’s a daily emotional adjustment to past history that’s required — even when (or maybe especially when) he is as graciously received as he was in South Carolina.
To listen to the entire interview, visit The Tavis Smiley Show’s website.