This reading group guide for Kinky Gazpacho includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Lori Tharps. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book. Questions for Discussion
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1. Why does Lori feel self-conscious about her hereditary connection to former slaves in America? To what extent does her race prevent her from feeling at ease with herself and her peers as a child in Wisconsin? How does her fascination with other cultures relate to her own frustration with the origins of her ethnicity?
2. “Maybe I wasn’t a nigger like she was talking about. Maybe I was different? Special? Maybe she forgot I was Black since I was so good at fitting in with all the Whiteness around me” (page 19). How does Lori experience her racial difference as a child in Wisconsin? How do you interpret her friends’ ability to ignore the fact of Lori’s race when they make racist jokes or remarks? To what extent does Lori try to minimize the fact of her being Black as a child?
3. How do Lori’s experiences at Shorewood’s public school open her eyes to the racial expectations of her fellow classmates, both Black and White? Why does she describe her parents’ decision to send her and her sister to public school as an “experiment”? How do her experiences in public school connect with her growing interest in Spain?
4. “Before I left home for college, I made a promise to myself. I absolutely, positively would not become friends with any White people” (page 49). How does befriending White people in college threaten Lori’s self-identity? To what extent is her desire to separate herself from White classmates an index of her commitment to reclaiming her own sense of being Black? What does the outcome of Lori’s promise to herself suggest about her own attitudes toward race?
5. How does Lori’s relationship with Manuel differ from the other romances she relates in Kinky Gazpacho
? What does their continuing their long-distance correspondence, despite an agreement to keep themselves open to falling in love with other people, suggest about their mutual commitment to the relationship? Why does Lori feel threatened when Manuel asks to visit her in Wisconsin?
6. “While I was in Spain, I’d been able to define Black any way I wanted to because there weren’t enough people to contradict me. Although the term ‘exotic’ rankled me in Spain, at least I got to define Black for myself” (page 129). How does Lori’s experience as a Black woman in Spain differ from her experience as a Black woman at Smith College? How does Lori define her race while she lives abroad as a student in Spain?
7. “I yearned to find something that linked my history, my spirit, and my culture to Spain so I could feel genuine joy and excitement when we planned our annual excursions. So that I didn’t feel so foreign in a country where I now had family” (page 177). How much of Lori’s sense of feeling “foreign” is connected to her being Black? How do her feelings of alienation relate to her being an American and not a native Spanish speaker? To what extent do you think she conflates these two different kinds of difference in her memoir?
8. What does the discovery of the little-known history of Black slaves in Spain represent to Lori? To what extent do Lori’s efforts to piece together her understanding of Spain’s history with respect to its Black residents help her come to terms with her own presence as a Black American in Spain?
9. How does a return to Spain after the birth of her son, Esai, affect Lori? What does the arrival of Esai represent to Manuel’s immediate family? What does their reception by Manuel’s grandmother reveal about the racial attitudes of some in Spanish society?
10. “Nothing had really changed in Spain. The people hadn’t gone through collective racial awareness training, but I felt like I had” (page 204). How does Lori’s quest to get to the bottom of the history of Blacks in Spain merge the professional and the personal obsessions of her life? How is her research into Spanish history so integral to her own changing feelings about her adopted country? Enhance Your Book Club
1. In Kinky Gazpacho,
Lori expresses an affinity with Spain before she ever lives there. Have you ever felt a special connection with another country? When your group meets to discuss Kinky Gazpacho,
ask each person to write down (anonymously) the name of a foreign country where he or she would want to live, and then draw out the slips and try to guess as a group which country belongs to which person. (In order to make every person’s choice a mystery, you may want to throw in two or three random countries.) How does the choice of countries reveal something about the individual who selected it?
2. Did you know that if Lori Tharps had a dog—which she doesn’t—his name would be Otis? To learn more details about Lori’s life and her work, to find out about her future readings and promotions for Kinky Gazpacho,
and to find links to her other nonfiction writing, visit her Web site: www.loritharps.com/home/.
3. In Kinky Gazpacho,
Lori prepares a meal for her future husband, Manuel, made entirely of vegetables: potato croquetas,
lentil stew, rice, bread, and baked apples. When your book group gathers to discuss the memoir, you might consider preparing some of the traditional Spanish dishes that Lori wooed Manuel with, or plan a potluck with your favorite Spanish foods. For inspiration (and no fewer than six different styles of gazpacho!) visit www.spain-recipes.com/.A Conversation with Lori L. TharpsWhy did you shift away from the field of education into a career in journalism?
I’ve always wanted to be a writer, but I never considered “writer” a legitimate profession. It seemed like a nice hobby but not something you could tell your parents you wanted to pursue. Once I made the decision to pursue my passion of writing, I elected to go into journalism because journalists have jobs and “writers” just write! How did the experience of writing this memoir differ from your other nonfiction work as a journalist?
The hardest part about writing a memoir is that you
are the main subject. I was used to dissecting other people’s personalities and researching obscure facts, but for Kinky Gazpacho
the spotlight was on me. There were times I didn’t want to write about certain incidents because they were too embarrassing or painful, but the journalist in me knew they were essential parts of the story and had to be told. You describe a sense of not being “the right kind of Black girl” from your time as an undergraduate at Smith College. To what extent do you think young Black American women in college today share this concern?
Sadly, I think the same thing still happens when college kids of any ethnic group come to college. Students are forced to immediately align themselves with a group or else risk social stigmatization. College campuses are still great breeding grounds for group-think mentalities. Why did the discoveries you made in your research on the history of Black slaves in Spain affect you so profoundly?
I guess because it made me feel like I mattered in Spain. Discovering that my people had been there and left their mark on the culture meant that I really wasn’t a foreigner in Spain. My roots were there, and not even that far under the surface. So in some ways, now when I go to Spain and people point or stare or challenge my right to be there, I kind of feel empowered because I know I have a history there. Even if the Spaniards don’t know it, I do. In terms of racial progress, what do you think will be the international impact of the election of Barack Obama as the first Black president of the United States?
I think Obama, as well as Michelle and his daughters, will make the American people reconsider what it means to be Black. There is such a limited view in this country of the Black experience, held by both Black and White people, that up until now hasn’t been effectively challenged. The Cosby Show
got the conversation started, but that could last only so long. (That’s a joke!) But seriously, I think Obama’s greatest impact will come from the fact that he is brilliant, not that he is Black. Where do you feel most at home—in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, or Salamanca, Spain—and why?
This is a really good question. I actually feel most at home in Brooklyn, New York, where I lived for twelve years after college. Part of the reason I feel most at home there is because it was my home for so long. But the other part is because Brooklyn satisfies my mind, my spirit, and my desire for a multicultural, multilingual, creative, urban community. And it’s really easy to get an international flight out of New York! To your knowledge, in the years since your time abroad, how has the Spanish perception of people of color changed?
To my great dismay, I don’t think it has changed much at all. In fact, with the current economic crisis and immigration woes, it might be getting worse. That being the case, I think it must get worse and then it will get better. Why do you think many Spanish people continue to be ignorant of the contributions made by Blacks who lived among them centuries ago?
That is such a good question and one I continue to raise every time I go back to Spain. I do know that there is a community of scholars both in and outside of the country who are working hard to remedy this fact and bring to light Spain’s impressive Black history. Have you and your husband raised your children bilingually? What is the extent of their attachment to Spain?
Absolutely. My husband speaks to our children only in Spanish. My kids don’t even know that their father speaks English! It’s kind of funny, actually, considering that he and I speak English together all the time. But besides the fact that we want our children to have the advantage of speaking two languages, speaking Spanish is what connects them to Spain. It allows them to seamlessly slip into the family unit when we go to Spain, where they have lots of cousins, aunties, and uncles. And most of those aunties and uncles don’t speak English at all. If you could have known one thing about Spain before you decided to live there, what would it be?
It would have helped tremendously to know that being Black would bring a lot of unwanted attention. I might have been better prepared and lowered my expectations. But then again, at that point in my life, if someone had mentioned that Spaniards are kind of racially insensitive, I might not have gotten on that airplane. And then where would I be? As difficult as the experience was, it still comes out a net positive. I learned so much about myself in Spain. I met my husband, and it was in Spain that I gave myself permission to be a writer because I discovered the meaning of true passion while I was there. Also, I am still in love with so many different parts of the culture, like the food and the music and the emphasis on family. So, all told, I’m glad I didn’t have anything but my fantasies to carry with me or else my life would look very different today. And I really, really like my life now.