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Archive for February, 2017

“… I still think Lillian Smith is the one to read on the topic of segregation,” Cam said. “You know Lillian Smith? Author of Strange Fruit? Now that would make some movie! No benevolent planters or happy darkies singing spirituals on the riverbank!”

Ada nodded, but once again had nothing to add. “I have heard of Miss Smith, of course,” she said, “but I haven’t read her work.”

“Aha! Something I’ve read that Madam Librarian hasn’t! You’d like her, I think. She’s a truly independent woman. Never married. She wrote a nonfiction book that I highly recommend—Killers of the Dream. She talks about how fiercely folks will hold onto something they just take for granted. Like segregation.”

That’s an excerpt from the second chapter of my new novel, The Ada Decades. It’s September 1957, and Ada Shook, a school librarian, has been making friends with her school’s English teacher, Cam Lively. A white woman like Ada, Cam is outspoken on “Negro” rights, especially school integration, and she wants to engage Ada in a discussion of the issue. A young African-American girl has become the first student of color at their Charlotte, NC junior high, and tensions are brewing that will eventually erupt in bullying and violence Ada will have to take a stand on.

What readers don’t know for sure yet but start to suspect is that Cam is also a lesbian. She’s been trying ever so subtly to send signals to Ada – here, she drops code words like “independent woman” and “never married” (wink, wink) for the venerable Southern author Lillian Smith (1897-1966), who shared her life with her female partner, Paula Snelling. Among their many projects, the couple ran a girls’ camp together on Screamer Mountain in Georgia from 1925 to 1948; the property is now part of Piedmont College. In the 1930s, they founded a magazine designed to give writers – including black writers – a forum for discussing civil rights.

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Lillian Smith (right) and Paula Snelling

Although Ada doesn’t immediately get the hints Cam throws out, she knows there’s something different about her new friend. And she’ll be clued in soon enough – stay tuned!

Right now, you can get a copy of The Ada Decades at the Bywater Books website; after March 14, it will be available in paperback and e-book formats through bookstores and other online vendors.

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The-Ada-Decades

Available from Bywater Books

My fourth novel, The Ada Decades, will be hitting bookstores in a few weeks, and to say I’m excited is an understatement. Not only is it my first published novel in 20 years, but it’s also a love letter to lesbian history of the not-so-distant past – one that has been brewing in me for quite a while.

Years ago, I attended a queer history workshop with the great gay historian Allan Berube (Coming Out Under Fire), in which he asked participants to imagine how we would have met lovers if we lived in a different, more closeted era. The gay men said they would have gone to parks or other public spaces; the lesbians among us mentioned schools, colleges, and libraries. It made sense to me – lesbians love books, right?

Since then, I’ve done a lot of thinking about the question of how lesbians found friends and lovers in the past. Some famous couples you may know met in decidedly literary ways: Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, co-founders of Daughters of Bilitis, met working at a publishing house; Willa Cather and Edith Lewis crossed paths after they both published stories in the same women’s magazine; and Sylvia Beach admired Adrienne Monnier’s bookshop in Paris and wandered in to introduce herself. In a similar vein, I decided to make my protagonist in The Ada Decades a librarian in North Carolina, and the woman she falls in love with is a junior high school English teacher with a penchant for the work of Lorraine Hansberry (A Raisin in the Sun) and Lillian Smith (Strange Fruit).

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Lorraine Hansberry

Over the next few weeks on this site, I’m going to roll out some of the real places associated with the characters in my book – like the mill community where Ada grew up, one of the first schools in Charlotte  to be integrated, and the picturesque town of Davidson, N.C. You might even get to see the pickup truck that Ada and Cam’s gay friend Twig drives. I hope you’ll come along for the ride.

In the meantime, The Ada Decades is available exclusively on the Bywater Books website until March 14, when it becomes available everywhere.

 

 

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