Alumnus Gabriel Bump presents novel about belonging


Miriam Bloom

BEST BOOK. 2009 U-High graduate and author Gabriel Bump talks to English teacher Catie Bell as he signs his book “Everywhere you don’t belong.” The novel has had a successful release, garnering critical acclaim even before being published on Feb. 4.

Audrey Matzke, Features Editor

For 2009 alumnus Gabriel Bump, belonging has always been an ongoing journey. It wasn’t until high school, in fact, that he began to discover his niche. Writing, he said, was just the outlet he needed. 

His interest began in high-school journalism classes, and has since steadily progressed into novel-writing. For him, the experience of never quite fitting in has led to a new novel, “Everywhere You Don’t Belong,” which attracted critical acclaim even before being published on Feb. 4.

“The title came about probably when I was a little bit more than halfway done with the first draft of the book,” Mr. Bump said, regarding his new novel. “Originally, it was about this young man on the South Side trying to figure out where he belonged. As I wrote more and spent more time with the characters, it became clear that it was more a book about places where you don’t belong. Maybe that ends up being everywhere.”

Claude, the protagonist of Mr. Bump’s novel, begins the story as an average middle school student — searching for a place where he can comfortably be himself. As a young black man in America, however, he grows to realize that sacred place may not exist. 

There were definitely times where, probably like most students, I didn’t feel like I was smart enough, capable enough.

— Gabriel Bump

Like Claude, Mr. Bump has been in a lot of places where he doesn’t quite belong. Through writing, though, he hopes to one day find one.

Mr. Bump began attending Lab in kindergarten. Like many students today, he reported feeling academically inadequate in elementary and middle school — an insecurity mirrored in his latest protagonist. 

 “I think emotionally, Claude and I are really similar. Like he can be a really shy kid. He has anxiety. He can feel intense pressure around expectations,” he said. “There were definitely times where, probably like most students, I didn’t feel like I was smart enough, capable enough.” 

For Mr. Bump, U-High was a complex space. Parallel to the title of his novel, there were times when he felt he did belong, and others when he didn’t. While the camaraderie of newspaper deadline nights brought him joy, and there were moments where he felt isolated as a biracial student — forced into a position of activism he never asked to inhabit.

“There were certainly moments where I felt like me and other African-American students had to be vocal about some of these disappointments,” he said. “I was in a class one time and I felt like someone had said something racially inappropriate and I said something to them, but I don’t think it went beyond those walls. You’re often forced to speak out against stuff or forced to correct people’s behavior when it’s disrupting your everyday existence. It’s unfair, but it can be productive.” 

So, Mr. Bump may never feel like he truly belongs anywhere, and he acknowledges this, but at this point in his life, he’s closer than he’s ever been.

He said, “I live in Buffalo now, a really quiet life where I can just teach and write, and I feel like I belong there. I don’t know if it’s because I feel like I can be a writer and feel more comfortable doing what I love doing. Everything I’ve been working toward has been paying off.”