The Trouble with Virginia is currently a work-in-progress, and I hope to have it in your hands soon. I will certainly keep you posted, and I plan to give you interesting little tidbits along the way on the home page of this blog as the story progresses. I’d love to hear your thoughts, questions, and ideas, too — feel free to comment and I’ll reply. It’s been so much fun researching and writing! I’m surprised by how much I’ve learned, too, about so many things — running the gamut from my personal mixed-race history to American history.
The name, The Trouble with Virginia, is my working title, so I don’t know if it will stick or be changed, and the book cover artwork you see above is something I created because I am such a visual person that it inspires me every time I look at it. So it may or may not stick as well. But I get excited every time I look at it. I must tell these girls’ stories! You’ve no doubt noticed the pictures, the two girls and the house above them, in the artwork in other variations here on this blog (like the header of this page). The two young ladies are sisters of my grandma. The house is “The Homestead,” built for my great-great grandmother in 1850 and still standing today.
The book, my debut novel, is a historical novel based on the true story of my great-great grandmother, Virginia. She was the daughter of a prosperous white plantation owner and a mulatto slave who lived openly as husband and wife—a dangerous way to live in the antebellum South. Virginia grew up with many privileges of her white father, yet her father had to buy her a husband from a nearby plantation. Her first three children were born into slavery—her father’s property. Then came the Civil War. And it marched right through Virginia’s front yard, or rather Robert E. Lee marched right through, on his way to the Appomattox Courthouse to surrender.
But this isn’t just a story about our distant past. My parents married in February 1958, a time when it was still illegal for them to do so in 16 states; like Virginia, my father is white and my mother is black. My parents believed there’s no such thing as race or color. I didn’t understand until I grew up how defining race still is; it may have been a hundred-plus years later, but when I left home, neither side knew what to do with me. My parents loved me, but they didn’t prepare me for the fight that awaited. Part of the process, for me, has been researching to discover who I am; in doing so, I found not just my story but a story of America.
The issues presented here are not only timely and poignant, but they provide a unique perspective on North America’s festering sore. In language that is vivid, terse, engaging, and clear, the dynamics explored in this story will provoke much thought: a white slave owner, married to a mulatta, circa 1830, whose children have privileges but are also his slaves. Here, there are many triangles—white to white vs. society, white to white vs. black, white to half-white vs. black, black to black vs. black, economics to love vs. law/morality, and much more. The Trouble with Virginia provides us with a deepened understanding of the connections between black and white, between men and women, between the free and the enslaved. It is a story brought to life with bold immediacy, a story of the making of America. In the tradition of Lalita Tademy’s Cane River and Heidi Durrow’s The Girl Who Fell from the Sky, here is a portrait of a young woman who struggles to understand the world around her—and society’s ideas of race, sex, and the meaning of freedom and equality.