Fresh-AIr

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Top left photo courtesy Lee Towndrow/Little, Brown and Company

On his first day in the seventh grade, Sherman Alexie opened up his school-assigned math book and found his mother’s maiden name written in it. “I was looking at a 30-year-old math book,” he says — and that was the moment he knew that he needed to leave his home.

Alexie grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation in the state of Washington. His mother was one of the few people who could still speak the native language, but she didn’t teach it to him. In his new memoir, You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me, he describes growing up surrounded by poverty, alcoholism and violence.

Check out his conversation with Fresh Air’s Terry Gross here.

– Petra

When I came out to my parents when I was just in my junior year at the University of Virginia, as I recall, I had worked myself into this frenzy. Look, you have to remember, it was 1980; it was a very different world. Things are a lot easier now. And so I had sort of worked myself into this frenzy of anticipation and I started talking to my parents and I must say, to her credit, my mother fell asleep. That’s the God’s truth: My mom fell asleep and my father nudged her and he said, ‘Don’t you think you want to respond to this?’ And she said, 'Oh, Daniel’s a good boy, I’m sure he will be fine.’ Which if I have any sanity, it’s probably because of that.
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Images courtesy of Simon & Schuster

Several years ago, when Garrett Graff was working at Washingtonian magazine, a coworker brought him a lost ID badge that he’d found on the floor of a parking garage.

“It was a government ID for someone from the intelligence community, and he gave it to me since I write about that subject, and he’s like, "I figure you can get this back to this guy,’ ” Graff recalls.

There were driving directions on the back of the ID, so Graff looked it up on Google Maps, and it led him to West Virginia. “The road dead ends into the side of a mountain,” he says, “And you can see very clearly these big concrete bunker doors — this little guard shack, chain-link fence, and then this set of concrete bunker doors beyond.”

Graff had stumbled onto one of the government bunkers designed to protect U.S. leaders in the event of a nuclear, chemical or biological weapon attack — most of which were built at the outset of the atomic age and throughout the Cold War.

He spoke with Fresh Air’s Terry Gross about his new book, Raven Rock: The Story of the U.S. Government’s Secret Plan to Save Itself – While the Rest of Us Die. Find their conversation here.

– Petra

10-10-2017 // 10:40am // worked last night haven’t been to sleep but it was a GOOD night ❤️ thank you Jesus🙌🏽
It’s raining, my windows are open (had to shut them to smoke lol) , I have candles & incense burning like always, my dogs are chilling on the balcony, & I’m sitting on my couch doing this lol. I love Indiana for days like this - it’s so cozy & comfortable & I’m honestly just thinking about how thankful I am for all the things I’ve had & still have in my life.

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Top image by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

On July 17, 2014, an unarmed black man named Eric Garner died on Staten Island, N.Y., after police officers threw him to the ground and put him in a choke hold. Garner’s last words, as recorded on a cellphone video, were: “I can’t breathe.” He repeated the phrase 11 times.

Although the coroner’s report listed the cause of Garner’s death as “homicide,” no police officer has been charged in the case. But the video of Garner’s last moments helped bring national attention to the injustice black Americans face at the hands of police.

“That tape had a huge impact on everything,” says journalist Matt Taibbi. “It’s opened the eyes — particularly of white Americans, who may not have believed that this kind of thing goes on.”

In his new book, I Can’t Breathe, Taibbi writes about Garner’s life, the police practices that contributed to his death and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement.

He talked to Fresh Air’s Terry Gross about the book – find their conversation here.

– Petra

‘I Am Full Of Contradictions’: Novelist Amy Tan On Fate And Family

Growing up as a first-generation Chinese-American in Northern California, novelist Amy Tan found herself pulled by two different notions of fate: Her mother was guided by beliefs in curses and luck, while her father, a Baptist minister, was guided by Christian faith.

As a result, Tan says, “I am full of contradictions. … I am full of wavering questions.”

Best known for novels like The Joy Luck Club and The Kitchen God’s Wife, Tan explores the contradictions of her upbringing in he new memoir, Where the Past Begins. In it, she connects her own experience with spirituality to that of her parents and of her maternal grandmother.

“I don’t consider myself any religion,” she says. “I’m not an atheist. I have an amalgam of beliefs that … [have] to do with Christianity, a little bit with Buddhism. I observe things that make me understand people.”

Photo: A 3-year-old Amy Tan appears with her brother Peter in this 1955 family photo. Peter died in 1967 after being diagnosed with a brain tumor.
Courtesy of Amy Tan