Kashana Cauley is the author of “The Survivalists”. (Photo courtesy of Mindy Tucker / Soft Skull Press)
Doomsday preppers, or survivalists, are people who take worst-case-scenario planning to the next level. Whether anticipating a government conflict or a zombie apocalypse, they are gearing up for total social and economic collapse. Or was mostly portrayed as a very serious reality show contestant.
But Kashana Corey, writer of the animated TV show The Great North and former staff writer of The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, believes everyone is preparing for the end of the world. It is theorized that it can be radicalized. In her first novel, The Survivalists, now published by Soft Skull Press, her Cauley explores how successful black lawyers search for love while vying for partnerships in her New York City office. I’m looking for something like that to happen.
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For Aretha, the story begins with a perfect date with coffee merchant Aaron. But the pressures of her job, her fear of failure, her lack of familial and social safety nets, and her search for meaning somehow lead Aretha down a strange path: Surviving the Apocalypse.
Survivalist comically explores the ways people make decisions that lead them into Rabbit Hole, and sees how the terror wrought by disasters, from hurricanes to bankruptcies, consumes us once upon a time. doing. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q. Were there any triggers or events that led you to choose the Doomsday Preppers as the subject of your book?
When I lived in New York City, it was a lovely squeaky-clean setting, and it didn’t feel like I needed to prepare for the apocalypse at all. But I’ve read some articles about preppers there. One couple was in a village with really nice homes with no crime. Another couple lived in Prospects His Heights at the end of my block above the ramen shop.
The reason these news stories are so relatable to me is because I grew up in Wisconsin in a house where my parents always stash food. When I thought “why do you have these things?” They say ‘I don’t know what could go wrong’ and refer to storms and situations where they can’t actually call the police (not that we wanted to, we were black). They just wanted to have things in case of an emergency. So this story idea stuck with me and I found myself addicted to this lifestyle.
As for research, I found a black survivalist online. Many people love to talk about preparation. And how do black people approach readiness that might be different than, say, the Bundes? I don’t want to call the Black Panthers pre-apocalyptic, but they had an idea of self-sufficiency – a community that was sort of isolated from the rest of the larger American economy. Seeing what it means became background material for the book.
I think a lot of modern preparation is very individualistic. Most of the time it’s just me and my bunker and my gun and food and they don’t come to visit me. However, many historical movements actually appear to be more community-based. We have a town that can grow enough food for everyone. Somewhere there was a big split – it surprised me. In the book, the prepper wants to survive, but he ends up trying to create a community within his home.
Q. This book explores fear and the depth it brings when trying to control it. can you talk about that?
I think many of us would like to think we have a lot of control over our lives, or control ourselves when we don’t have control. Fear has an intellectual response and an emotional and instinctive response. And the emotional response is much less controllable than the intellectual response. It can lead you to try to control yourself by doing things you never imagined you were doing.
A little of that discussion is about pressure, taken from my own background as a corporate lawyer. Every year, it was an environment where I saw people eating canned food before and after the consecutive holidays. Every year in the second week of December there is a great fear that we will end up right on the cutting board. The pressure was very high. The hours were insane. Every woman I’ve worked with at some point has lost a ton of hair. Trying to succeed in this environment, against all odds, and even at the cost of our sanity and health, I think it drove us a little crazy.
For Aretha, the fear of not succeeding and the pressure of her daily work make her an unhappy person all the time. You may do things you don’t.
Q. Black people aren’t always the first people that come to mind when talking about Doomsday preppers. However, in this book, the extreme pressures and fears of modern life, as well as the lack of fulfillment and safety nets, cause Aretha to turn into a prepper.
So, like the characters in the book, I am black. We are American too. We, like anyone else, are susceptible to the common American values of fear, pressure, and stubborn individualism. As a sub-demographic, we face a lot of pressure And I think I’ve experienced many failures.It’s very scary.
Aretha’s parents are deceased and while her best friends and colleagues do, Aretha doesn’t feel like she has one. It adds another level to her pressure and her fear, pushing her into something of a doomsday prep for her, she’s like, well, this is something I can control. I am able to filter the water and maintain a supply of soy bars.
Q. Hurricane Sandy inspired Aaron to start digging the rabbit hole of preparedness and survivalism. Have you ever lived in New York and experienced it?
My husband and I ended up flying and staying with his parents in our hometown so he could take his math exams in a place that hadn’t experienced a hurricane. We didn’t go home for 4 weeks. I had no strength. Everything was flooded.
I ended up in Chicago because his work office was in Chicago and I could freelance. But we were just miserable. We missed home so much. Yeah, Sandy was the trigger event for me. We had a plan and actually escaped. But yeah, hurricanes ruin your life.
When I moved to California just before the pandemic, I put together an earthquake go bag I heard I had to have here.
Q. You are writing for television. Did it influence anything that goes into the book?
Some of my television work has had really, really big writers’ rooms. . So when I sit down to write something, it’s good to think about how the people I’ve worked with approach something.
The very sitcomic three-act structure is also a very fun way to stitch the book together. You know what to expect with a three-act structure, but there’s still room for experimentation. At the same time, it tells you where to put the big dramatic points and how to structure the plot.
I wanted to write a dark comedy. I wanted Aretha’s situation to continually get worse, and I wanted her to make decisions that she wasn’t comfortable with. But I wanted some of those decisions to be funny. I think there’s something inherently wrong with the idea of surviving. Of all the people affected by this, I am doing all these things and planning to be okay.
Q. Is there anything you would like readers to take from this book?
I want people to ask themselves: What is their relationship with fear? Do they let fear rule their lives? What are they doing for fear and is it really serving them? are you happy? I know a lot of people who have become people they didn’t want to be because of their fear.
In general, I like to work there and draw people’s own conclusions, but I think this book gives readers a good excuse to re-evaluate their relationship with fear.