Excerpted from The Hearts of Men by Travis Hunter. Copyright © 2001 by Travis Hunter. Excerpted by permission of One World/Strivers Row, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Q:Why did you decide to write a “relationship” novel?
A:I can only write about what I know. I’ve always been interested in the human psyche and what makes some relationships work and others fail. So I researched by observing relationships. I listened to people’s gripes about their spouses and what they were expecting out of their relationships but never took the time to communicate to their spouses. People love drama, and some of the things that I’ve encountered in my unofficial research are enough to fill ten novels. My goal is to help women understand men better—why we do what we do. But I want to reach men as well, because it takes more than just being over the age of eighteen to make someone a man.
Q:Are you any of the characters in The Hearts of Men?
A:I have a bit of all of them in me, but if I had to choose it would be Prodigy Banks. We’re very similar. There were a few things that I changed to add to the drama of the book, but I pretty much captured the essence of Travis in the character Prodigy. We have the same heart and the same giving nature but we also have a street edge that says, “Don’t make me lose my mind up in here.”
Q:What advice would give to someone who dreams of becoming an author?
A:Write something every day. And every rejection letter brings you one step closer to realizing your dream. Be realistic with your expectations; this is not a get-rich-quick business. It’s not all glamour; it might seem that way, but you have to put the work in. Surround yourself with positive people; you can’t keep the creative juices flowing in a negative environment. Find yourself a mentor if possible. Most of the authors that I met were very helpful. Get a self-publishing manual, even if you don’t plan to self-publish. There is a ton of information in those manuals that will educate you on the business side of publishing. And last but not least: Keep God first and everything will work out.
Q:In The Hearts of Men, Poppa Doc eases himself into the lives of the male characters to dispense a little wisdom and guidance. How important do you think it is to have a male presence in your life?
A:I think it is extremely important to have a male role model, but not just any male. You need a positive male who thinks first and knows the meaning of sacrifice. I blame a lot of the negativity that is going on in our communities on men. If more men were being men, then black men wouldn’t make up 46 percent of the prison population even though we’re only 13 percent of the nation’s population. If more black men were home raising their daughters, then the teen pregnancy rate wouldn’t be so high among our young sisters. I’m not placing all of the blame on black men, but we have to take care of our own and stop running away from our responsibilities. At the rate that this country is shipping our young men off to prison, we’re headed for genocide. I wrote The Hearts of Men to entertain readers but at the same time make them think what a difference a positive man can make in their lives.
Q:How are you doing your part?
A:I practice what I preach. I take care of my son, financially, emotionally, and physically. My son’s mother and I have gone our separate ways, but I made sure that I remained a major part of his life. He lives with me for the same amount of time that he lives with his mother. I’m also the executive director of The Hearts of Men Foundation. It’s a nonprofit organization that mentors young boys. The men in THOMF make unannounced visits to our youngsters’ schools and homes to speak with their teachers and parents. We ask them to set goals for themselves, and when they meet their objectives, we go out and celebrate. I realize that I don’t have all the answers, but if I can touch a few lives, then my mission will be accomplished. I also speak at high schools and prisons. I’m the only male in my entire family over the age of eighteen who has never been to jail. I think God had a higher purpose for me.
1. After Prodigy sleeps with his new coworker, Gina, he tells her that a woman who sleeps with many men is judged by a different standard than a man who does the same thing. Are there different standards for men and women? Does Prodigy believe in them? Does Bernard judge Diane’s brief affair with her pastor more harshly because of this?
2. The antipathy Bernard feels for Prodigy is rooted in his role in the theft of Bernard’s car some time ago. Bernard persists in punishing him even though Poppa Doc has forgiven him. Is Bernard right? Why does Poppa Doc forgive Prodigy’s transgressions? Is it possible to make wrongs right again?
3. Prodigy, Jermaine, and Bernard all grew up without fathers in their lives. How does their lack of father figures affect their ability to become successful fathers? Even with a strong father, Michael Þnds it difficult to accept responsibility for his own children. Why is this?
4. For much of his past, Prodigy has dated all the wrong women, including his married boss. It is only when he decides to stop dating that he encounters a woman who seems right for him. How is Nina different from Gina or Simone? Has Prodigy changed what he wants in a woman?
5. In some ways Bernard could not change or forgive his wife until he found his mother and let his childhood go. Likewise, Prodigy could not change his life until he gave up crime and encountered Poppa Doc. Would these personal transformations have occurred without Poppa Doc or Susan? What is Hunter saying about parents or parental figures here?
6. Poppa Doc and his wife disagree on how much they should support their son; Poppa Doc thinks that they’ve spoiled Michael and that he should learn the hard lessons of self-reliance. Why does his wife find it so hard to let go? How do parents help and hinder their children? What are the differences between mothers and fathers?
7. Bernard is trying so hard to compensate for his own childhood that he often loses sight of what is important to his family. Did his own childhood affect his ability to be a father and a husband? Is his bitterness toward his mother and his childhood justified?
8. When Prodigy’s cousin Jermaine comes to Atlanta for a break from fast-paced Philadelphia, Prodigy tries to influence him in a more positive direction. In some ways, Jermaine’s presence reminds Prodigy of who he used to be. Is Prodigy successful in helping him? What does Prodigy come to realize about himself and how he has changed?
9. Poppa Doc is the father figure Prodigy never had, and it is a role Prodigy steps into for Blake. How important are fathers and role models? What changes do we see in Blake after Prodigy comes into his life? What does Prodigy provide that his mother cannot?
10. Diane is so angry with Bernard because he doesn’t spend enough time with her or their child that she seeks fulfillment elsewhere. Is Diane right? Is she justified in challenging Bernard to be home more? Does Bernard bear any of the blame for her actions?
11. In many ways, The Hearts ofMen is about men growing and accepting more responsibility in their lives. When Poppa Doc gives his sermon about respect and responsibility, he challenges the men to become real fathers to their children and good husbands to their wives. Do men lack responsibility and respect in real life? What about women?