Best selling author Dennis Lehane

Credit: AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis

Dennis Lehane On Racism In Boston And His Latest Novel

May 15, 2017

Author Dennis Lehane, best known for novels including “Gone Baby Gone,” “Shutter Island” and “Mystic River,” joined Jim Braude and Margery Eagan on Boston Public Radio Monday to chat about his latest novel, “Since We Fell,” a psychological thriller about a protagonist whose search for the identity of her father spirals into something much darker and destructive.

Lehane, a Dorchester native, also addressed recent media coverage of racism in Boston, following recent events at Fenway Park and comedian Michael Che’s  description of Boston as “the most racist city I’ve ever been to” back in February.

“I’ve lived in some pretty racist places in my life, so I don’t know that I would define Boston as the most racist,” Lehane said. “Do you see a lot of racism here? Do we have a troubled racial history in this city? Absolutely, 100 percent, own it. But is it the most racist? I don’t know … I’ve been in parts of Alabama and Mississippi that are truly terrifying.”

Lehane said the idea of qualifying a "most racist place" is not possible in the context of the modern Western world.

“I see it everywhere — it’s not a Boston problem, it’s an American problem, it’s a European problem … it’s a problem, period,” Lehane said. “Do I think that Boston is a racist city? Yes, I think there’s plenty of racism in Boston. Do I think it’s the most racist city in Boston? No. I don’t think you can qualify such a thing.”

Lehane stirred up controversy on Sunday, after using a racial slur during his commencement speech to Emerson College’s graduating class.

Lehane told students a story about growing up in the midst of Boston’s busing crisis in the 1970s. “I will never forget this for the rest of my life. We were trapped in the back of a car,” Lehane said. “We couldn’t move. We could just be buffeted down the street. And they had hung effigies of Arthur Garrity, who was a judge at the time, of Teddy Kennedy, and they were lighting them on fire with torches. And they were screaming, ‘N—s out.’”

Lehane issued a written statement the following day apologizing for his use of the word:

“The word is the most offensive word in the English language. To use it in the context of the times in which I was describing was to show exactly how ugly those times were and that particular night was. If, in an attempt to convey that with absolute authenticity, I managed to offend, then I apologize to those who were offended. Hurting people with the use of that word, of all words, was about as far from my intention as one could get, but I take ownership of the result. I should have known better.”

To hear the full interview, click on the audio player above. Dennis Lehane will be at the Brattle Theatre Monday, May 15, at 6 p.m. at an event sponsored by the Harvard Bookstore. Click here for tickets.

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