‘Mudbound’ author provides insight into ‘Tale’ novel

November 2, 2010

Author Hillary Jordan is scheduled to visit Genesee, Orlean and Wyoming counties in March 2011 to discuss her book “Mudbound.” The novel was recently chosen as the next title for the “A Tale for Three Counties” community reading project.

Hillary Jordan’s debut novel “Mudbound” was recently announced as the 2011 pick for the “A Tale for Three Counties” community reading project. The author answered several questions in an e-mail interview in advance of the Oct. 18 announcement, and some responses were shared in a story on the announcement.

“Mudbound” is the story of two families — one white, one black — and their struggles in the post World War II South. City-bred Laura Allen is trying to raise her children on her husband’s Mississippi Delta farm. In the midst of the family’s struggles, two young men return from the war to work the land. Jamie McAllan, Laura’s brother-in-law, is everything her husband is not — charming, handsome and haunted by his memories of the war. Ronsel Jackson, eldest son of the black sharecroppers who live on the McAllan farm, has come home with the shine of a war hero. But no matter his bravery, he is still considered less than a man in the Jim Crow South.

Racism, prejudice and social injustice are among the themes explored in Jordan’s novel.

Here are the complete responses from Jordan’s e-mail interview with Daily News Lifestyles Editor Ben Beagle:

What inspired you to write “Mudbound”?

My grandparents had a farm in Lake Village, Arkansas just after World War II, and I grew up hearing stories about it. It was a primitive place, an unpainted shotgun shack with no electricity, running water, or telephone. They named it “Mudbound” because whenever it rained, the roads would flood and they’d be stranded for days.

Though they only lived there for a year, my mother, aunt and grandmother spoke of the farm often, laughing and shaking their heads by turns, depending on whether the story in question was funny or horrifying. Often they were both, as Southern stories tend to be. I loved listening to them, even the ones I’d heard dozens of times before. They were a peephole into a strange and marvelous world, a world full of contradictions, of terrible beauty. The stories revealed things about my family, especially about my grandmother, who was the heroine of most of them for the simple reason that when calamity struck, my grandfather was invariably elsewhere.

To my mother and aunt, the year the spent at Mudbound was a grand adventure; and indeed, that was how all their stories portrayed it. It was not until much later that I realized what an ordeal that year must have been for my grandmother—a city-bred woman with two young children—and that, in fact, these were stories of survival.

I began the novel (without knowing I was doing any such thing) in grad school. I had an assignment to write a few pages in the voice of a family member, and I decided to write about the farm from my grandmother’s point of view. But what came out was not a merry adventure story, but something darker and more complex. What came out was, “When I think of the farm, I think of mud.”

The book has been praised for its exploration of racism and social issues. Was this a goal of the book?

Most definitely. I think that race is the great unhealed wound of our country, and even though we now have an African-American President, we still have a ways to go on racism. Ditto for women’s rights, which is another cause of mine.

How did you find the voice of the book’s African-American characters?

I read every first-person account I could find by black people who lived in that era. The most invaluable resource was All God’s Dangers: the Life of Nate Shaw by Theodore Rosengarten. This is an autobiography of a black Alabama cotton farmer who started out as a sharecropper and ended up owning his own land, with many misadventures along the way. Nate was an indelible character, smart (though illiterate) and funny and wise about people. He was eighty years old when he told his life story to Theodore Rosengarten, a journalist from New York. Some of the more colorful expressions in the book — e.g., “Might as well to been singing songs to a dead hog” — came from Nate.

Have you participated in a one-book/community reading project before?

Yes, I was the freshman read at Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C., recently, and the whole community participated. The local public library made it a “Watauga County Reads” selection, and I did an event there. I felt like everyone in a 100-mile radius had read the book!

How do you as an author benefit from participating in group reading/discussion programs?

I love being around fellow book lovers, and It’s always a pleasure talking to readers about my work and hear their perspectives. The fact that I sometimes get paid for doing so makes it all the more enjoyable.

The “A Tale for Three Counties” project is organized by public libraries in Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming counties and Genesee Community College. The project encourages readers to pick up the same book, read it and discuss it, then come to a

series of events with the author. Book discussions are being scheduled; Jordan is scheduled to visit March 10 to 12

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Courtesy of Batavia Newspapers Corporation

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