Published: 22/08/2014 17:24 - Updated: 22/08/2014 17:42

Book Fest guest Bonnie Greer

Bonnie Greer
Bonnie Greer

SCOTLAND has always been a part of writer Bonnie Greer’s life.

The playwright critic and cultural commentator — a regular BBC 2’s Newsnight Review and frequent guest on BBC 1’s Question Time — was named after Bonnie Prince Charlie while a great-great grandmother was even called Caledonia.

Yet, although she has lived in the UK since visiting the Edinburgh Festival in 1986, she has not made it to Inverness until now.

There is no record of a Scottish connection in the Greer family, but Greer, a guest at Inverness Book Festival, is not ruling out the possibility.

"It’s quite possible. A lot of Scots settled in the South," the Chicago-born author said.

Her recently published memoir, A Parallel Life, deals, with much more recent history, the story of Greer growing up in the racially divided Chicago of the 1960s and taking her first steps towards a writing career.

She acknowledged that in focusing on the early part of her life had taught her some new things about herself.

"I didn’t realise my need to go forward," she said.

"Even as a child I was really keen on going forward and defining myself on my own terms. That was always really important to me.

"I didn’t realise I had lost so many friends at a young age. I’m from the AIDS generation and working in the arts, a lot of my friends were gay. To have lost so many friends by the time I was in my middle 30s, people who were crucial to my growth, that was really something I hadn’t grasped or grasped how much it affected me as a creative person and as a woman."

What also had a major impact on Greer’s development as a person and as an artist was growing up in her home city with its unique identity.

"I have lived in London for 30 years and when I go home to Chicago, I understand more what it means to be from Chicago," she said.

"It’s different from being from New York or from London. When you write a book about your life, you start to see how your environment and the community play a part in shaping you as you were growing up.

"Part of being a Chicagoan is that we are not New Yorkers. I was looking at all the tributes to Robin Williams, and a lot of his comedy was based on the comedy that was coming of age in the 1970s, the whole Second City and John Belushi thing. It pretty much had its roots in Chicago and the attitude that Chicagoans have — not being particularly politically correct, not being very sophisticated, speaking truth to power.

"It’s telling it like it is, basically, and I discovered that’s what I’ve always had in myself."

Greer’s school years were spent against background of Civil Rights protests in Chicago and across the USA, but although Greer might have been too young to march with Martin Luther King, she was well aware of the social changes going on.

"A lot of that had moved on by the time I grew up, but I knew about it, for sure," she said.

There may not have been the overt segregation of the southern states like Mississippi where Greer’s father was born, but Chicago was and remains racially divided.

"It’s what we call ‘sundown segregation’ where you are working alongside each other, but you don’t socialise after work, you don’t live in the same areas, you don’t speak the same," Greer explained.

"It’s still the same in Chicago after all these years. Your life is pretty much circumscribed by the colour of your skin. We live our lives and you have a good time, but it’s very polarised and it can be a quite dangerous place."

• Bonnie Greer is at the OneTouch Theatre, Eden Court, today, Friday 22nd August,  at 6.30pm as part of the 10th Inverness Book Festival. Her memoir, Parallel Life, is published by Arcadia Books.

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