What is the one thing you wish people better understood about slavery?
AGR: That the people I am writing about were living under deep oppression, but they were not non-functioning, non-hopeful people. There’s a tendency to write about enslaved people as if they were, for lack of a better phrase, mentally deficient or perpetually cowed. Even people who write about slavery with great sensitivity overall sometimes fall into that trap. The vast majority of enslaved people were uneducated, of course. But that does not mean that they did not have innate intelligence and capabilities. MC: The books nominated for the National Book Award in nonfiction this year all seem to investigate great tragedy. How do you see the relationship between the act of writing nonfiction and the reality of human suffering? AGR: Historians try to deal with life in the past in all its aspects, and suffering is one inescapable part of human existence. We do it on an individual level—when we confront personal turmoil or lose loved ones, for example. We also do it on a large public scale,