Author Spotlight: Kambri Crews

Author Spotlight: Kambri Crews

January 23, 2012

In her upcoming memoir, Burn Down the Ground (Random House), author
Kambri Crews looks back on her unconventional childhood with deaf
parents in rural Texas while trying to reconcile her present life—in
which her father is serving a twenty-year sentence in a
maximum-security prison. talks to the author, who lived in Arlington and Grand
Prairie and is now based in New York about her book, her memories of
Texas, and what she hopes readers will take from her compelling and
brutally honest memoir. You write about your family’s chaotic past, was it
difficult writing this book and sharing the details of your life?

Kambri Crews: If by “difficult” you mean was I sitting alone, grimy and
unkempt, drinking gallons of Pinot Grigio while talking to no one for
days on end except my Chihuahua? Then, yes, it was very, very

Writing is isolating, and I am not a solitary person. I love being out
and about, attending or producing shows, and hosting parties. So to
shut myself in for a year to write and edit was a shock to my system. I
had to force myself to shower, go outside and mingle with people again!

After I delivered the manuscript, I went through what I can only
describe as a writer’s version of postpartum depression. I had given
birth to this thing –my book– and afterwards felt a tremendous amount
of sadness and loneliness. I had to re-live some of the most harrowing
times in my life. Opening the old wounds and extracting their poison
was both cathartic and painful, like self-imposed therapy sessions
without a psychiatrist. As a comedy publicist, did you feel it was important to
write with some humor even when retelling heartbreaking moments?

KC: It is often noted that people in comedy usually have the most
disturbing, messed up lives. As Carrie Fisher once said, “If my life
wasn’t funny it would just be true, and that is unacceptable.” On
stage, I definitely make fun of the bleakest moments in my life. I
can’t help myself. You don’t grow up with deaf, pot smoking parents and
take refuge in a shed without getting at least one bizarrely funny
story out of it. Humor definitely helps people get through difficult
times and there are moments of levity throughout the memoir. However,
the book isn’t a barrel of laughs. If I were sarcastic and treated my
father’s crimes with gallows humor, it would be disrespectful to my
father’s victims and dismissive of his wrongdoings. Examining my
childhood and how my father became who he is today –an incarcerated
deaf man disowned by nearly everyone in his family—allowed me to be
more reflective. What do you hope readers get from the book?

KC: Forgiving others and making peace with the cards you have been
dealt is within all of us. Generally speaking, people aren’t purely
evil or good. Life is much more complicated than that. My father didn’t
wake up one day and become a criminal. He was on a path that was aided
by the legal system, his deafness, his family background, and many
other factors that had a tumbleweed effect. Domestic violence doesn’t
discriminate. It exists in every race and class. So I hope the book
increases awareness, but that it also spurs thoughtful dialogue about
prisons, crime and punishment in this country.

My memoir also touches on what it’s like to live as a Child of Deaf
Adults (CODA). Throughout there are some things that most hearing
people don’t think about, like deaf humor, party games, and odd quirks.
I hope the reader walks away with some knowledge about Deaf culture and
American Sign Language that inspires them to learn more. It’s a rich
and fascinating society and beautiful language.

At the very least, the reader will get some good tips on smuggling a
pack of Juicy Fruit into the clink. What was your father’s reaction to you writing the book?

KC: My father knows I’m telling my story from my point of view and that
I am sharing some good and some not-so-good parts of our lives. Talking
through pain and trauma is a great step towards healing. Hopefully, he
will see that he is loved unconditionally by me and my brother and be
compelled to become a better man, a better father, and a better citizen
upon his release. And if he doesn’t like the book, maybe he can use it
to hide a chisel. You had an unusual, challenging upbringing in Texas, living
in a tent, a shed, a trailer, do you have any happy memories of Texas?

KC: They’re almost all happy memories! As a child, you don’t know what
“normal” is. And, well, what is “normal” anyway? While traveling in
Peru, I remember seeing a babysitting in the dirt, wearing only a
diaper, surrounded by filth and chickens. My heart broke as I thought,
“That poor child.” And the kid was probably thinking, “I love my

I must sound like Tom Sawyer when I recount stories of growing up in
the woods. It was like a southern fried Lord of the Flies. It wasn’t
until later when I saw how the “other half” lived and ventured out into
the world that I realized the opportunities I missed and the hardships
I endured. But I was loved. I was fortunate to inherit my mother’s joy
of reading and to receive a fantastic education by some of the finest
teachers in Montgomery (outside of Houston) and at Richland High School
in North Richland Hills. You can do a lot in life with a solid
foundation of reading, writing and arithmetic. Sorry, kids, but it’s
true. Now go do your homework.

Burn Down the Ground by Kambri Crews (Random House) will be released on
February 28, 2012.


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