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Being an Attorney and an Author: An Interview with John Medeiros

Medeiros
John Medeiros is a shareholder with the law firm of Nilan Johnson Lewis, where he leads the Corporate Immigration Group. He also serves as Chair of the Minnesota/Dakotas Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

He recently published a memoir, Self, Divided, which won the 2020 Howling Bird Press Nonfiction Prize.

From the description:

In 1995 John Medeiros and his identical twin brother participated in a gene therapy study in which the HIV-positive twin was infused with billions of genes from the HIV-negative twin. This memoir details, from a firsthand perspective, a time in our recent history when the world had to reckon with the emergence of a seemingly undefeatable virus. Self, Divided explores the dysfunctional yet enduring relationships that surround this pivotal moment in Medeiros's life and family, brilliantly capturing how we all are connected, in one way or another, to those around us.


John discusses how he balances his writing and his practice, why he chose to write this book, and advice for potential attorney authors.

How do you balance your immigration law practice with writing a memoir?

If you asked me this question five years ago, I would have said that the writing process for me comes mostly in the evening, when I can turn myself off to the rest of the world and focus on my craft. But I am an immigration attorney, and as most immigration attorneys will tell you, the last four years have made it impossible for us to turn ourselves off. With an administration that prided itself on its very anti-immigration positions, and with swift and rapid changes to policies and procedures without a hint of warning, I’ve had to remain hypervigilant if I wanted to be able to manage my practice—not to mention my clients’ expectations—during that time. My writing during this time was legal writing, with an emphasis on the Trump administration’s immigration policies. For this reason, I’m happy to have had a solid draft of the memoir written before that administration took office. The last year has been spent focusing on the revision process, which made it a bit easier for me. I like to think that going forward I can start working on new material.

Your poetry has been published before, what were the differences between publishing a book of poems and a memoir?

The main difference is the audience. When you write poetry, you’re less concerned about who’s reading it, and which of those who are subjects of your material will receive that material. The opposite is true with memoir. When I knew this book would finally get published, I had deep conversations with family and friends who are featured in the book to make sure they were aware that pieces of their stories and their memories would also make their way into the world, and I didn’t want that to be a surprise to anyone. Also, the readership for poetry is not the same as the readership for memoir, so I knew the memoir would reach a larger audience.

"I knew my personal and professional lives would come together in a very public way, and I like to think my story resonates with other legal professionals as well as with my clients."



In a profession that isn’t known for vulnerability, what made you want to tell this very personal story?
This is an excellent question. For many years I kept my personal life in one corner and my professional life in another, and the twain had no reason to meet.

I like how you say that the legal profession isn’t known for its vulnerability, and I think that’s particularly true with corporate lawyers. While I am an immigration lawyer, it’s important for me to mention that my clients are primarily corporate clients, and my practice focuses on employment-based immigration. Corporate clients are very different from individual clients; their expectations are different, and their needs are different. But the people within those companies are human, just like you and me. With the publication of this book, I knew my personal and professional lives would come together in a very public way, and I like to think my story resonates with other legal professionals as well as with my clients.

"The memoir is a quest for identity. It raises the questions of how we claim identity when we are all, in some way or another, connected to others around us."



The memoir is a quest for identity. It raises the questions of how we claim identity when we are all, in some way or another, connected to others around us. I use the metaphor of my identical twinship to raise that question. Valarie Kaur, in her book See No Stranger: A Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love, refers to this as looking at others as a part of ourselves we do not yet know. I love this perspective because it opens the door to diversity by asking us to consider other ways of looking at things and people around us. I’m grateful that my colleagues in the legal profession and that my clients understand the value of diversity and appreciate the lessons we can learn from others whose stories are different from ours.

What advice do you have for working with a small publishing house?
This book required a very specific publishing house—one that would be able to read the manuscript with the eye of a poet (the narrative is very lyrical and even uses white space the way a poet uses white space) while at the same time understanding the challenges of a longer prose narrative. My advice would be to know your book. Know its strengths, know what you want the final product to look like, and then research publishing houses who share your vision. This does not mean you won’t have to make sacrifices in the editing process (that’s a given), but it does mean the sacrifices you make will be sacrifices you both agree on. Remember, you and your publishing house are a team. And that team needs to be able to work together.

What was the most enjoyable part of writing this book?
I have to say it was the revision process. Even though this is something many writers detest, it really does require a re-visioning of the larger piece. And it really is part of the larger writing process. It’s amazing to me how the larger piece takes on different shapes and different forms. I’ve written this piece in both the present tense and the past tense. I’ve written it in the first person narrative, second person, and third person. I’ve revised it to have a non-traditional format as well as a traditional format. And each iteration allowed the manuscript to shine in a different way and to take on different meanings. I enjoyed that because as a writer interested in the interplay between poetry and prose, and between narrative and form, the possibilities seemed endless.

Self, Divided is available for purchase at bookshop.org, spdbooks.org, and other major retailers.
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