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Sundial: His Jamaican family fled to Miami. Author Jonathan Escoffery gets real about race in South Florida

Miami Herald
Jonathan Escoffery, author of “If I Survive You,” will appear at Miami Book Fair Nov. 19. His novel-in-stories is set in and around Miami, where he grew up.

“What are you?” The writer Jonathan Escoffrey has wrestled with that question.

To explore it, he drew from personal experience to write the new book, If I Survive You, which was longlisted for a National Book Award — one of the highest honors for a writer, especially for a first-time author.

On the Dec. 20 episode of Sundial on WLRN, Escoffrey talked with host Carlos Frías about the city that helped shape him into one of Miami’s bright new voices.

His book of interconnected fictional stories draws on his real experience of a Jamaican family fleeing political oppression and immigrating to Miami.

And here, that family confronts the issues that Miami wrestles with. Issues of race. Of class. Of crushing economic disparity. And how they survive all of these things to figure out where they fit in.

Meanwhile, as the main character Trelawny tells it, people listen to their accents, look at the color of their skin and keep asking them: “What are you?”

Escoffery writes about Miami the way only an insider can.

He name-checks Trick Daddy the rapper. He describes growing up near the stench of Mt. Trashmore. He recalls a Cutler Ridge overrun with skittering crabs.

It’s not the Miami of rich housewives and reality TV. It's just real Miami.

Listen to the full episode above.

On Sundial's previous episode, we heard from Miami writer and former WLRN reporter Nadege Green. She talked about the deep love she has for her community and a new book of stories about gun violence in Miami.

Listen to Sundial Monday through Thursday on WLRN, 91.3 FM, live at 1 p.m., rebroadcast at 8 p.m. Missed a show? Find every episode of Sundial on your favorite podcast app, such as Apple Podcasts and Stitcher.

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Carlos Frías is the host of WLRN's Sundial. He is a bilingual writer, a journalist of more than 25 years and the author of an award-winning memoir published by Simon & Schuster.
Leslie Ovalle Atkinson is the lead producer behind WLRN's daily magazine program, Sundial. As a multimedia producer, she also works on visual and digital storytelling.
Elisa Baena is an associate producer for Sundial.