William Faulkner once wrote, “The past is never dead. He didn’t even pass. I thought a lot about this quote, which comes from his 1951 novel Requiem for a nunregarding today’s guest, George Dawes green.
George is the creator of the hugely popular event series, radio show and podcast moth, which redefined personal storytelling in the digital age. George is also a novelist, and his new book, the best-selling crime novel Savannah Kingdomsis set in his native Georgia and features a great contemporary update on Faulkner’s themes.
What Faulkner, the great neo-Gothic chronicler of the pre-civil rights movement of the South meant, was the idea that if you don’t deal with history honestly and sincerely, it continues to hamper your present and your future. , like the ghost of the murdered king in Hamlet. Individuals and societies cannot move forward until some form of acknowledgment and justice for past crimes has taken place. This is at the heart of Gothic literature, which is filled with ruins, ghosts and secrets from the past bursting into the present. This is why the characters in Faulkner’s work are literally and figuratively haunted by race relations that they have not honestly considered. This focus on the unexplained past is why Faulkner, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1949, is one of the most influential figures, not just for American authors like Toni Morisson (herself a Nobel Prize winner) but also for writers around the world – the Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez called her “my teacher“ in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech. In too many parts of the world, the past is not over.
This brings me back to George Dawes Green. Savannah Kingdoms is set in the contemporary South and features an ancient aristocratic family whose fortunes and members have dissipated over the years, in part due to hidden secrets and an inability to move on. Early in the novel, there’s a murder that involves Savannah’s power structure, and the result is a page-turning thriller about race, class, and American history that I just couldn’t stop.
I spoke with George during a recent Reason Speakeasy, a live, monthly, unscripted conversation with outspoken advocates of free thought and heterodoxy in an age of conformity and groupthink. We are talking about his experiences at the frontier of creative expression and how the past stubbornly informs the present, whether in his native Georgia or post-COVID New York.
We also talk about how he came to create moth, which turns 25 and has become nothing short of a global phenomenon. Unsurprisingly, George is a masterful storyteller himself, and his own past reads like something out of a novel: he lived in a graveyard for a time, and he started a business that sold clothes made from of rare fabrics woven by hand in Guatemala. It is only after all this that hWe have become a novelist whose first two books have been turned into films and a cultural entrepreneur whose biggest project is still in progress.