David Barclay Moore Speaks to DC Jail Book Club

Before David Barclay Moore, author of his debut young adult novel Stars Beneath Our Feet, even got a chance to introduce himself, he was peppered with questions and opinions about his novel from the high-spirited and inquisitive teenagers comprising the Free Minds juvenile unit book club at the DC Jail that meets every Tuesday. 

“What was the moral of the story?”
“Why is his nickname Lolly?”
“Which one of the girls does he love?”

The teenagers in the book club at the DC Jail had read and discussed his novel in preparation for his visit. Stars Beneath Our Feet follows the grieving process of 12-year-old Wallace (“Lolly”) Rachpaul whose older brother died in a gang-related shooting. As described by the publisher,

It’s Christmas Eve in Harlem, but twelve-year-old Lolly Rachpaul and his mom aren’t celebrating. They’re still reeling from his older brother’s death in a gang-related shooting just a few months earlier. Then Lolly’s mother’s girlfriend brings him a gift that will change everything: two enormous bags filled with Legos. Lolly’s always loved Legos, and he prides himself on following the kit instructions exactly. Now, faced with a pile of building blocks and no instructions, Lolly must find his own way forward.

His path isn’t clear—and the pressure to join a “crew,” as his brother did, is always there. When Lolly and his friend are beaten up and robbed, joining a crew almost seems like the safe choice. But building a fantastical Lego city at the community center provides Lolly with an escape—and an unexpected bridge back to the world.

Moore told the group that he, himself, lost his brother Brian to cancer six years ago. This quickly led to a discussion on the choices that storytellers have in deciding how to channel their emotions through narrative when a Free Minds member asked why Moore chose to write about a gang-related death instead of a cancer-related death.

But this was not the only question about choices authors make in their storytelling that Moore would receive, creating space for discussing two motifs weaving through his work – Legos and coyotes in New York City – or more precisely what they are meant to represent: childlike imagination and treatment of the Black community in the US.

“Why [of all hobbies] did you choose Legos?” one Free Minds member asked.

Legos are building blocks that let you create something from nothing, Moore explained. The Legos are a metaphor for both childhood and the childlike creativity and imagination that we hold onto in our coming-of-age.

Then Kelli Taylor (co-founder of Free Minds and Jail Book Club Manager) asked the members to reflect on the significance of coyotes appearing in New York City. The teenage boys reacted with incredulity when Moore explained that coyotes do wander into the city from time-to-time—and the protagonist could relate to the notion that they are unwelcome in their own neighborhoods.

Book club members also wanted to know more about the writing process and asked Moore what was the hardest part of writing a novel. For Moore, it’s “getting it all down the first time from beginning to end,” and then once it is on paper, “polish it, polish it, polish it until it shines.”

At the end, it was Moore’s turn to ask the guys a question—write about a place you go to for escape, whether real or imaginary, that helps you cope the way Lolly’s Lego worlds do—prompting poetry and paragraphs on the comfort of good food (A place that takes me away from my misery / And my not so good days / Is any place that sells superb food…) to the calming effect of music (When I’m stressing / I think music can take me to a peaceful mood…Also another way to have me chilled / Is to write music about what I go through / Just to take my mind off the bad things).

The book club expressed their gratitude for David Barclay Moore’s visit and got their books signed to conclude another great session.

Special thanks to author David Barclay Moore, An Open Book Foundation for arranging the visit, and the DC Department of Corrections for making this possible.

Free Minds staff with author David Barclay Moore

Free Minds staff with author David Barclay Moore at the DC Jail

By Jessica Xiao

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