The Book Riot Live Interview: Patrick Phillips

Poet Patrick Phillips is the author of the nonfiction book, Blood at the Root. You can read more about him here.

Q: Got a favorite superhero?

Black Panther.

Q: What’s one thing you want people to know about your book?

That on the day I set down the first word, I had been researching for years.

Q: Do you know your Hogwarts house?

I need to ask my niece, Emma! She’d know.

Q: You can take one (and only one) book with you on a 4-day trip where there are NO BOOKSTORES. What book do you take?

The Odyssey.

Q: Favorite album or band to listen to while writing?

Miles Davis, Kind of Blue.

Q: What’s the story you wish someone else would write, so you could read it?

I can honestly say that Blood at the Root IS the story I always wanted someone to tell. As someone from Forsyth County, I always hoped to find the truth about my home on a library shelf. I began the book in earnest when I finally realized that if I wanted the truth, I would have find it myself.

Q: Chunky or smooth?


Q: What are you reading right now?

Jesse Ball’s How to Set a Fire and Why.

Q: What book do you wish more people had read?

The Souls of Black Folk by W. E. B. Dubois.

Q: Which comes first in your process: plot or character?

Plot. My story began with the question “What happened?” And in trying to answer that, I realized I needed to ask “Who did this?”

Q: What genre have you never written in but want to?

Fiction. I hope to someday write a novel.

Q: What’s the most surprising thing you learned in the course of writing your most recent book?

That many African Americans were better off in the 1870s than they were in the early 20th century, at least in terms of access to our legal system, and equal protection under the law. As a young man I had naively believed the gears of progress run in one direction: from injustice towards justice. Writing this book taught me a great deal about how the gains of one era can be undone in the next.

Q: What was the worst job you ever had? The best?

I once mopped floors in a bakery and spent several days chiseling the hardened chocolate off the floor. Finally the ex-marine baker showed me how to flood the entire bakery with an inch of water, go outside, smoke a cigarette, then open the scupper plug and watch it all float down the drain. That was one of the best–probably because I only lasted a month. I remember he used to pay me with a big wad of $1 bills, and I felt like a bigshot peeling them off in front of my friends. The worst was a job writing proposals for a health care company whose sole client was the Pentagon. It was so boring that I nearly feel asleep just now, writing that sentence.

Q: What do you know now about publishing that you wished you knew when you were first starting out?

The power of hustle: the power of getting up very early in the morning, and writing for an hour or two before the kids wake up.