Alligator Lake takes on the question of what a mother does when she finds that the thing she fears and has avoided is a part of her own family. A mother who thought something that would always be someone else’s issue finds herself facing in her own daughter what she fears the most—in this case a mixed race relationship. This kind of thing happens in families all of the time. Maybe a child brings home a person of a different race, or a lover of the same sex, or someone of a different religion. Whatever upsets the family dynamic, everyone must cope—and some do it more gracefully than others.
My stories weave the lives of family members together as I attempt to show how our personal and family histories affect our present lives. It just so happens that in the South there’s a whole lot of history affecting a whole lot of people! Sometimes white people in the South have a tendency to overrate the effectiveness of the Civil Rights Movement—to act as if everything is all settled now, and we’ll move along from here—all one happy conglomeration of folks, everyone respecting each other’s differences. But that’s not always the case. There is still a prickling discomfort of “us” and “them.” It could be “those whites” or “those blacks,” but still there’s often an underlying sense of social distance. Some want to keep it, some want to ignore it, still others have found ways to revel in it.
My two novels, Catfish Alley and Alligator Lake try to take a look at these issues honestly, through multiple lenses, with multiple voices, both black and white. My creative process is about using story to examine social assumptions, to open up the tightly shut box of unconscious behavior and bring it out, squinting, into the light of day. In doing all of this writing about racism, I have a tendency to risk getting too serious. A serious subject, no doubt, but when taken out of the context of real people’s lives, race becomes rhetoric, insubstantial, a political stump. I support, wholly, anyone’s endeavors to genuinely approach/resolve racial conflict. But, I also believe that it is real people in real relationships with one another that will create change.
That’s why I love to write stories of families, with all of their quirks and faults—to help us understand real people, and to have some compassion for each other while we continue to learn to live and love and make our way.
As a writer, many of my stories come from my upbringing in rural Mississippi, where my maternal grandparents farmed cotton and my mother is one of their fifteen children. I grew up during the era of the Civil Rights Movement and came of age during the volatile integration of Mississippi’s schools. I attended nursing school at Mississippi University for Women, and then went on to complete both a masters in nursing from Ole Miss and a PhD in nursing from the University of Colorado. I now teach nursing full-time in Colorado, but the home of my heart will always be Mississippi.
- Thanks to NAL, we have a print copy of Alligator Lake up for grabs.
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