Arts

Making The National Conversation About Race Part Of A Novel

Protesters affiliated with "Black Lives Matter" and other groups protest in downtown Atlanta on July 8, 2016.
Protesters affiliated with "Black Lives Matter" and other groups protest in downtown Atlanta on July 8, 2016.
Credit Mary Claire Kelly / WABE
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When best-selling author Joshilyn Jackson started writing her latest book, “Origin Story,” she had William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” and the biblical story about Leah and Rachel on her mind, not race. Now that she’s written it, however, race seems to be the main theme running through the novel.

In this installment of “Writer to Reader,” Jackson explores how the national conversation surrounding race and recent police shootings of unarmed black men has shaped her novel.

“This conversation is taking place all across the entertainment industry,” Jackson explains. And one of her biggest qualms comes from what she calls “the default to white.”

“If race isn’t mentioned, the character is white,” she says. While Jackson acknowledges that it makes some sense for people to default to their own race in cases of unidentified race, she says it becomes a problem when people get find out the race of a character is different from what they initially imagined and get angry.

In an effort to address this in her novel “The Opposite of Everyone,” Jackson’s mixed-race narrator does not always identify strongly with one race or another.

“So when she sees people for the first time, she always mentions [race],” Jackson explains. “But if the person is well-known to her, she never mentions race.”

As for “Origin Story,” Jackson is pleased that the book takes on the conversation of race. “It’s the one it had to have before I could say ‘OK, this is the book I needed to write’,” she says.

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