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Header Photo Courtesy of Roger Bennett
Author: Roger Bennett
1. Your book, “Reborn in the USA” is a coming-of-age tale and story of your life as an American-loving adolescent. What made you want to share your experience with the world, and how do you hope your story inspires current youngsters?
I wrote most of the book during lockdown. A year of chaos for the United States which forced me, as a freshly minted US citizen, to dig deep into memories of an era when the United States felt very different.
As a Liverpudlian teen looking on from across the ocean in the 1980s, the United States had appeared as a beacon of such courage, tenacity, and wonder that it changed everything I thought possible about the world and gave me the strength to chase those possibilities with the passion Tracy Chapman once sang about fast cars.
I wanted to re-create a portrait of this American idea, written in a spirit of the love, optimism, and gratitude I believe will prevail. I came of age with the Stars and Stripes and the Manhattan skyline painted as a mural on my bedroom wall and ended up moving here.
The act of becoming an American citizen is the single greatest achievement of my life. This book is that story. An American immigrant story. A bit like the first half of Scarface or the last scene of Yentl. If Scarface had been as influenced as I was by Richard Scarry Books, Hart to Hart, Love Boat, Fantasy Island, Miami Vice, John Cougar Mellencamp's "Scarecrow," Pretty in Pink, the Super Bowl-Winning Chicago Bears, Public Enemy, Beastie Boys, and, greatest of all, my Queen, Tracy Chapman.
What do I hope younger readers will take from the book? To answer that, I will nick the words of Mina Kimes and her blurb which I truly love: “The book reminds us not only of what it means to pursue the American dream, but what that dream should—and still can—represent." Amen.
2. What was your writing process like for “Reborn in the USA”?
I wrote the bulk of the book in the first seven months of lockdown. The entire world of sports had shut down, which was devastating. For me, sports are a life force that transcend the mere x’s and o’s. The effect of watching a team I love (Everton, Chicago Bears, United States Women’s National Team, White Sox or the Washington Capitals) enables me to experience so many emotions — joy, misery, wonder, abject failure — normal people experience in real life, yet I am regrettably numb to.
I am also conscious of the sense of global connection the experience of live sports fosters. Nature abhors a vacuum, so I took all of that lack, absence and sudden loneliness and flung it into the act of writing, mining my own past for the stories and emotions and the sense of connection I missed from sports.
3. Was there anything you learned about yourself while writing this book?
I have always thought myself to be an American trapped in an Englishman’s body. Reliving my journey to American citizenship gave me an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the journey and an awareness of how incredibly fortunate I am that it has all come to pass.
Also, writing a memoir was an overwhelming task. At times, it felt like being charged to dig out of confinement armed only with a teaspoon. I have learned that in times of challenge, I can dig and dig, and dig.
4. When did your love for soccer begin and how has the sport changed your life?
I was born into football. Growing up in Liverpool, music and football were all we had. Britain in the 1980’s often felt like it was tearing at the seams, pulled apart by violence, chaos, and fear. One minute we had a global empire, the next, even our own tiny island seemed to be crumbling all around us with the nation’s industrial muscle atrophying into a mass of unemployment and despair.
So, for me, the sport was how I made sense of the world. Albert Camus, a fine goalkeeper himself as a young man, was once alleged to have said, “Everything I know about morality and the obligations of men, I owe it to soccer.” I truly believe that.
I should say that witnessing the game I love grow and grow in America, the nation that I love, has been the thrill of my lifetime. When I arrived in America in 1993, soccer had seemingly forever been cast as America's “Sport of the Future,” its recent past little more than a collection of false dawns and hyperbolic predictions that it was about to become the next big thing.
I have since watched with wonder, World Cup to World Cup, as the profile of the game has inexorably risen to the point that the sport’s profile has taken its place alongside Seersucker, cheesesteaks, and the collected works of Raymond Carver as a symbol of our nation’s freedom and democracy.
5. You stated that you felt that you were “born an American trapped in an Englishman’s body”. Did this feeling of displacement have an effect on you while growing up and how do you feel now that you are an American citizen?
Growing up in Liverpool at a time when the city was falling apart, America to me was essentially what ballet dancing was to Billy Elliott. The music, movies, television, sports heroes, and Converse All-Stars were a light in the darkness. I survived by dreaming of an alter-ego.
An American version of Rog. A kid who looked like me, but was clad in Ocean Pacific board shorts, an Airwalk T-shirt, rocked a pair of Reebok Soldiers on his feet. I pictured him driving. Making Out. Smiling. All the things I did not do in real life. So, to make that dream real has been the journey of a lifetime.
My greatest hope is that in five generations time, my NBC network headshot will hang on one of my descendants' dining room walls. They will look up occasionally during family meals shared together and when asked, point at it with mouths still full. "We can't remember his name," they'll say, "but we do know he's the one who first moved the family to the United States of America."
6. When did you realize that you were funny, or at least had the ability to make people laugh?
Growing up, life in Liverpool was hard. As a result, it is a town of romantics, dreamers, storytellers, and comedians. Jokes are like air and water. Basic elements that support life. When we were kids on the schoolyard, everyone was funny.
What I have learned is, life has a habit of kicking the humor out of you. So, I think of myself less as funny, and more blessed to have held on to my sense of humor for longer than many of the kids I grew up with.
7. If you could only listen to one Beastie Boys album for the rest of time, which one would you choose?
Musically, Paul’s Boutique, but for sense memory, Licensed to Ill, which was the soundtrack to my last year of high school. The Beastie Boys’ Licensed to Ill Tour, which rolled into Liverpool and ended within 10 minutes amidst a riot and tear gas, is a key scene in my book. That was the night I decided I had to leave Liverpool and move to the United States.
8. What’s the best book you have read this year so far?
9. What’s the best advice you have ever received on happiness?
I am an Everton fan. A Chicago Bears fan. I know all too well, happiness is but a fleeting emotion in life. That realization forces you to understand you must celebrate any moment of joy as if you are dancing at your own kid’s wedding. Never take it for granted. Make great memories while you can.
10. Do you plan on writing more books in the future?
I am writing one now.
Places To Find More From This Author:
Website: Men In Blazers
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