Hobbs: Robert Peace & Chosen Exile

I decided to catch up on a few NPR Books podcasts and author Allyson Hobbs made me want to read something again. Tales of passing have always held my interest, so it wasn’t hard. I’ve seen Pinkie and both versions of Imitation of Life dozens of times (as if those are the qualifiers). So when Hobbs discussed her new release on NPR, I promised myself that I’d do more research.

A search for Hobbs & NPR, led me to another author with the same last name. Both might be worthy reads:

robertpeaceA heartfelt, and riveting biography of the short life of a talented young African-American man who escapes the slums of Newark for Yale University only to succumb to the dangers of the streets—and of one’s own nature—when he returns home. When author Jeff Hobbs arrived at Yale University, he became fast friends with the man who would be his college roommate for four years, Robert Peace. Robert’s life was rough from the beginning in the crime-ridden streets of Newark in the 1980s, with his father in jail and his mother earning less than $15,000 a year. But Robert was a brilliant student, and it was supposed to get easier when he was accepted to Yale, where he studied molecular biochemistry and biophysics. But it didn’t get easier. Robert carried with him the difficult dual nature of his existence, “fronting” in Yale, and at home.

chosenexileBetween the eighteenth and mid-twentieth centuries, countless African Americans passed as white, leaving behind families and friends, roots and community. It was, as Allyson Hobbs writes, a chosen exile, a separation from one racial identity and the leap into another. This revelatory history of passing explores the possibilities and challenges that racial indeterminacy presented to men and women living in a country obsessed with racial distinctions. It also tells a tale of loss.

Happy reading, y’all.

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Tara Conklin: A Slavery Novel with No Slaves

So, I’ve eyed The House Girl by Tara Conklin for my TBR list for sometime now. Tell me that a modern novel takes place on a plantation or involves slavery as a theme and color me interested. Well, I was lucky enough to receive an email on whether I wanted to receive an advanced copy of Conklin’s work sometime ago—but unfortunately this offer wasn’t available in ebook format.

Tara Conklin discusses her new fiction work in a recent NPR Books interview (actually the same episode as Sampson Davis–see previous post), but there’s one portion of the conversation that raised an eyebrow for me. When asked whether Conklin was “worried about writing a novel about slavery with mostly white characters” (as heroes even), she states:

You know, to be honest, I didn’t [worry]. First of all, I didn’t because I never thought anyone was going to read it. I mean, I literally wrote this in my pajamas in my bed late at night, so the idea of anyone having a reaction to it was not something that really crossed my mind until much, much, much later. And, I mean, to me the heart and soul of the novel is Josephine, and she was the character that I sort of fell in love with from the very beginning. She was the character that I had dreams about, and that I really worked the hardest to get right in the book, so I guess I never felt that it was more about the white characters. I really think Josephine is the driver in the novel … everyone sort of revolves around her. 

The author replies that she hadn’t even thought about it. Wow. Yeah. What a world we live in. A slavery novel with no slaves. Just kidding, we don’t need too much blackness in a slavery novel anyway. Okay, just one or two black characters should do. Again, I kid. View the book summary:

The House Girl, the historical fiction debut by Tara Conklin, is an unforgettable story of love, history, and a search for justice, set in modern-day New York and 1852 Virginia. Weaving together the story of an escaped slave in the pre–Civil War South and a determined junior lawyer, The House Girl follows Lina Sparrow as she looks for an appropriate lead plaintiff in a lawsuit seeking compensation for families of slaves. In her research, she learns about Lu Anne Bell, a renowned prewar artist whose famous works might have actually been painted by her slave, Josephine.(Read an excerpt from the novel)

Happy reading, y’all.