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The ‘average kid’ of Gabriel Bump’s debut novel finds joy in South Shore

‘Everywhere You Don’t Belong’ follows Claude McKay Love navigating first loves, resisting social pressures and going off to college within a neighborhood notorious for violence.

Gabriel Bump’s debut novel “Everywhere You Don’t Belong” has been awarded the Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence.
Author Gabriel Bump grew up in South Shore and now lives in Buffalo, New York.
Jeremy Handrup

Gabriel Bump’s debut novel “Everywhere You Don’t Belong” is narrated by an ordinary but unforgettable kid, Claude McKay Love, against the background of Chicago’s South Shore. Love fails at love and feels social pressure regardless of his environment.

Love just lives there.

“I just kind of like an average kid,” Bump said. “There are a lot of those in South Shore, so it’s important to me to show that character.”

Bump is from South Shore and completed a writing degree at the School of the Art Institute. Inspired by Stuart Dybek’s short stories about Chicago neighborhoods, Bump says he realized similar stories existed in the places he called home.

He developed an impulse to write about a place he knew “wasn’t necessarily represented” during the early stages of his debut novel.

“It’s not an autobiographical novel I wanted to make,” Bump said. “I want to approach writing about the place kind of like a magical, like a fun, fictional way with these interesting characters.”

Author Bump and protagonist Love both grew up in the same area and both write. Beyond that, they do not share any more similarities. The characters are fictional. Bump said reporting at his high school newspaper at University of Chicago Laboratory Schools fed into some of the stories he created.

His earlier reporting for the school’s U-High Midway website provided an understanding about how people gravitate towards gangs and what children’s social needs are. “Claude doesn’t have to join a gang even though he is around it because he has stability at home,” Bump said.

Other characters assume otherwise and typecast Love as a kid living with drug abusers.

“I just grew up in that space and not necessarily participating in anything that you would see reported on the news,” Bump said. “You know, most of them, most people exist in those spaces. The vast majority of people that live in those spaces are just trying to go day by day.”

The cover of Gabriel Bump’s “Everywhere You Don’t Belong.”
Algonquin Books

Love is shy and quiet. Unlike most narrators, he is “sensitive” and deals with depression and anxiety.

“I feel like people [will] find something in themselves in Claude,” Bump said. “This kid from part of the world that’s pretty misunderstood. … The people can see the levels of joy and the fear and sadness and humor that exist in these spaces even when things seem to be really bad in the neighborhood.”

After receiving his MFA in fiction from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Bump ended up in Buffalo, New York, where he found a bit of Chicago.

“It’s your typical Rust Belt city,” said Bump. “It’s neighborhood-orientated ... so I ended up hanging around here and I liked it.”