Susan Gregg Gilmore on the Civil Rights Movement and The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove

Someone asked me recently if I had any trepidation about taking on the Civil Rights Movement in The Improper Life of Bezillia Grove. The question was inevitable. But I wasn’t really prepared to answer it.

Relationships were undeniably complicated in the 1960s American South, where society remained neatly ordered by class, status, and skin color. There’s no doubt about that. And Bezellia definitely pushed those once well-defined boundaries. There’s no doubt about that either.

But quite truthfully, I never felt I was “taking on” anything, particularly something of such importance as the Civil Rights Movement. I was only wanting to tell the story of a young girl who was desperately trying to be loved and love other people and struggling to find ways to do that with some compassion and integrity.

Was it coincidence that I was first asked this question only days after leaving Montgomery, Alabama, where the Civil Rights Movement took some very important first steps? Probably not. I’m not a big believer in coincidence.

Get recommendations for the greatest books around straight to your inbox every week.

susan-gregg-gilmore-revBut again, am I “taking on” the Civil Rights Movement? No. My job, my responsibility, as a writer is a simple one, to bridge the gap between what I have observed and experienced and what I can put on paper. With that said, I would never assume what it meant or means to be African-American in the South. But I can honestly look at the culture in which I was raised and share that imperfect world with others.

Bezellia is not an activist or a hero, far from it. She only tries to be more heroic than those who stumbled before her.

We’re giving away copies of The Improper Life of Bezillia Grove!

To enter for a chance to win, visit Susan Gregg Gilmore’s website to read an excerpt of The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove and post a comment here with your thoughts. (Winners chosen at random and notified by email. Limited quantities; while supplies last. No purchase necessary.)

About Kira Walton

Kira Walton

KIRA WALTON has been stalking books all her life as a college English teacher, bookseller, book club consultant, author, and editor.

  • Kris Becker

    I am always intersted in books about the civil rights movement in southern 50s-60s. The excerpt is intriguing. We do not know the race/ethnicity of the narrator. We just know there is a tradition in the family of first born daugters to be named Bezellia after their ancestor.The author shows the narrator’s relationship with her mother through their shared name and that is the intriguing part. How can a relationship between mother and daaughter be hinged on something as basic as a name? The author, I sense wishes to explore this and so much more. I hope I can be a part of this.

  • JW

    Interesting back story, but I am not sure why having family who lived in the same place since it was created is reason for superiority.

  • lee pettigrew

    This looks like an excellent read for anyone who came of age in the ’60s.

  • Anna

    I do genealogy so I can definitely relate to this excerpt. The book sounds very interesting.

  • Bonney

    This book sounds like a great read. Civil Rights has always been an interest of mine.

  • denise

    This looks like a wonderful read.

  • Laura G.

    I think this could be quite an interesting read, as some of this is still seen in my part of Virginia today. I still struggle against outdated perceptions and societal expectations…

  • Cynthia Hunter

    This book looks very interesting and I look forward to reading it!

  • Winnie Boger

    I would love to hae the opportunity to read this book. I too was living in the South ( and still do )during the 1960’s and remember the struggles that people went through durung this time. vtab

  • Tammy Panter

    Would love to win this book. I live near Nashville, TN and identify with this author!

  • Kimberly B

    What an inspiring statement made by Susan Gregg Gilmore, “my responsibility, as a writer is a simple one, to bridge the gap between what I have observed and experienced and what I can put on paper.” This statement alone motivates me to move The Improper Life of Bezillia Grove to the top of my reading list. I love anything dealing with history, as historical fiction is my favorite genre. I can’t wait to see the American South through the eyes of this heroine during such a critical time in history.


    I enjoyed the writing. I had questions,” Why did the mother not like her daughter”? Bezellis sounds like someone you want to know. Knowing the book is about the civil rights movement is a real turn-on for me. I am white but fell in love with Martin Luther King and his “I had a dream speech”.

  • Diana Donnelly

    Enjoy reading books of our early history. Thanks for the wonderful giveaway

  • Jennifer M.

    Being a Southern woman myself, descended from a very long line of Southerners, stories like this really speak to me. I’m excited to read this book!

  • Connie

    The excerpt makes me think the book is very captivating…one you just cannot put down!

  • Eileen Main

    Oh how I would LOVE to read this book. First of all my favorite Genres of books are memoirs , second is history. This brings both together and i can just imagine what she had to go through living down south in those times. I can’t wait to read this and share it with all my friends.


    This book sounds like it would be a wonderful piece of fiction to read. Sounds like there will be a lot of familial disputes as well as love to be shared throughout this book. I hope I win!

  • courtney

    sounds like it will be an informational and interesting read.

  • Teri

    Wow….can’t wait to read it!

  • Kacy Hayes

    The excerpt caught my attention. I can’t wait to read the rest of it. Being a baby boomer myself, I know I will connect with the character.

  • Patti Hess

    This book sounds very interesting! Especially with the mixture of culture….Going to be a good read whether I win or not 🙂 Congrats on your book Susan Gregg Gilmore!!

  • cynthia jones

    Looks like a really interesting book, would love to win and read!

  • Mary

    I am looking forward to reading “Improper Life of Bezellia Grove”. Am anxious to see how many of the author’s perceptions mesh with my own.

  • Libby

    Historical fiction, right up my alley!

  • Erika

    I am excited to read this book. There is some local Nashville history in it. I love reading about southern history, especially around the Civil Rights Movement. And Bezellia seems to have some family issues, which always makes for an interesting read

  • Kathy Austin

    Sounds like a fantastic book! Would love to read it!

  • Nancy Dozier

    I would love to read your book! I too am a child of the south! (Mississippi) It seems that we have both lived some of the same memories growing up. I recently have done research about my family ancestry. So many things have been made clear to me, just by knowing the past! I’m sure The Improper Life of Bezillia Grove would be a delightful read to me!

  • Priscilla Omofoma

    The Civil Rights Era has always been one of my most favorite periods in history to study. Definitely not the happiest time in history, but a time we could all observe, and learn from, if we would just take the time.

  • Sara N

    This sounds like a very interesting family! I loved the history of her name & am excited to hear more.

  • nola chiavacci

    the novel sounds like it is about the proud culture of the south and its period of turmoil. I have a feeling that Bezellia Grove will give us an extraordinary view into this world.

  • Danielle Housenick

    After reading this excerpt, I am really excited to possibly read this book. So much southern fiction seems folksy and this does not have that tone to it.

  • Matthew Ward

    As someone from Tennessee myself, I am fascinated with the idea of this book. Excited to hear more about it.

  • Judith Mosconi

    I loove southern stories! This one starts out introducing us to a character that I know I’d like to meet. And, though I’ll probably learn something about the place and the times, I’m most anxious to see it through Bezellia’s eyes. Bezellia’s life and family are bound to be interesting.

  • Joy Buhler

    The excerpt was intriguing. However, I’m not sure about the writer’s voice as I find myself a little bothered by it. I’d like to read more to decide if I enjoy this book or not.

  • Ashley McCourt

    Sounds like an amazing read! I, too, would be proud of having someone in my family do what the ancestral father did!

  • Tiffany

    This book sounds like a very touching book. Just by reading the excerpt makes me feel like I need to read more. I believe this book will hit home for many people out there.

  • Stephanie Wright

    Reading the excerpt only makes me hunger for more! My ancestral family is from far southeastern Kentucky and has rather strange names as well. I am not sure if we have any story such as this but I can tell you I am proud of my heritage. I also have always studied about the civil rights fight in the south. The combination of topics in your book stimulates my hunger for literature.

  • Amanda Lane

    I can’t wait to read this book.

  • Maria

    You can really get a sense of her independence and strong will in the last line when she says she always wanted to hear her name and didn’t care what others thought of it.

  • Bonnie

    Susan Gregg Gilmore’s book “The Improper Life of Bezillia Grove” sounds absolutely fascinating and a must-read! Sure would love to win this wonderful book!

  • Debbie B

    This book sounds wonderful.

  • Sue

    Sounds like a really interesting book. So far it has good character development. I’d love to read the rest.

  • heather fox

    interesting read


    I cannot wait to read the entire book. Read the excerpts and I am already anxious to read more.

  • Amy W.

    What an interesting period of history to explore! Looks like a very interesting book.

  • Chastity

    Would love to read this book. Hope I win Thanks for the opportunity

  • Patty

    I would love to win and read this book…

  • Sabrina Williams

    Looks interesting. Would love to read

  • Vicki

    The excerpt is but a tease of what promises to be a fascinating look into the history of the Civil Rights Movement that so many remember in their own way. I for one well remember growing up in a town where a man and woman married in the 1950’s in a mixed relationship and it was a shock for the entire town which was still reverberating from the shock 22 years later. Their children were looked down upon and many treated the wife with utter disdain because her husband had given up the opportunity to have an extremely successful baseball career when he married her. Now in the 21st century, looking back, events of the Civil Rights Movement are a part of the history of the country, and yet there is still a ways to go before there is equality for all. I would love to win this book to discover if Bellizia does what I believe she does, breaking the very strict boundaries of the time and entering into a relationship with a man of the colored race. Winning would also allow me to see another woman’s perspective of the turbulent times of that period in the history of our nation.

  • Kate K.

    The excerpt has me hooked & I would love to read the whole book. I’ll have to check out other books by this author.

  • Kassanndra

    I seem to be the odd one out that I’m actually not a child of the ’60’s (try more child of the ’90’s) and yet I still would love to read this. The descriptors and story line sound very interesting.

  • Janet Nydegger

    Sounds interesting. Even if I had not read the review I would be interested in this book. I love the title!

  • Chris

    I loved this explanation: “Sadly, the Bezellias birthed before me never cared for this designation, preferring a monosyllabic moniker – like Bee, Zee or Zell”. My own family has so many members with the same first name, myself included, that we each are known by our own monosyllabic monikers! Loved reading the excerpt and would love to read the book.

  • SandyJ

    This sounds like an exciting book to read! Can’t wait!

  • Erin

    Looks like a great book! I’d really like to read it!

  • Dede Bessey

    Even today in some circles, civil rights, biracial relationships, and segregation still loom in the hearts of some. I think this looks like a great book about shattering those antiquated ideas!

  • Korrine

    This sounds like a really great book! I would love to read it.

  • Maria Cipriano

    I love a good read and this one seems to qualify! As soon as I saw the word “pushed the well-defined boundries” I knew this character would be someone I would like to get to know.

  • Marcy W.

    This sounds like a great book.

  • Brenda Rupp

    The book sounds fascinating! I’ve always been interested in stories about the civil rights area. I am too young to be a child of the 60’s, but when I was activly dancing on the Swing Circuit/traveling ot swing dancing conventions, I met with some people who lived in those days and who were treated differently when they arrived to perform than those that were white that were hired.

  • Anji

    Well, I’m intrigued. I’m looking forward to reading more than a few paragraphs!

  • Teresa Rice

    Well, I’d like to hear more about this story that seems to be steeped in family history.

  • Misi N

    Ready to read more!!!! Love the excerpt.

  • Lisa

    Looks like a bookclub winner to me…was looking for a good book and this is what caught my eye: “desperately trying to be loved and love other people and struggling to find ways to do that with some compassion and integrity.” I can so relate to that statement. Looking forward to reading this.


    “I, on the other hand, always wanted to hear my name in its entirety, never caring what others thought of it”. This to me shows a strong girl with a good self-esteem. The book sounds very enticing just by reading that page. I’m sure I will be reading this book, one way or the other.

  • alex

    ohh! love love love when authors mix history and fiction! this is on my list!

  • Victoria Mathis

    The subject matter of “The Improper Life of Besella Grove” looks to be very interesting, I’m also a child of the 60’s. With all the changes going on during those Changing times, The Civil Rights maches were very big to a young girl from a good family with a name. She’s undergoing her own big changes. The enviroment of those times were tough for a girl struggling against what socity was telling her to do.

    Yes! I would love to read abook like this very much.

  • Beverly Seavey

    in this small excerpt the author has shown her insight into the South -importance of lineage and family

  • Grant D. DeLanoy

    This is definitely an interesting looking book.

  • Melissa P.

    There is something about books such as this that spark my interest. This book would make for a very interesting read.

  • Renee Baareman

    Sounds exciting…would love to read it!!

  • juli

    Having just returned from a road trip that took us near Nashville, I am intrigued with that area of our country and would love to see how Bezellia’s life plays out. After reading the excerpt, she appears to be a strong character and I want to know more about her. Nothing would be better than a glass of sweet tea and a new book to read.

  • Lisa Gibbs

    This book sounds delicious! I can’t wait to read it!

  • barbd

    Fascinating. I would read this very slowly so as not to miss any interesting point of history!

  • mary

    what a horrible family tradition, really.

  • Jeanine Birckbichler

    This looks like a book my book group would love to share! Even if we don’t– I want to read it!

  • nancy barker

    I must read this book. I am a child of the sixty’s and while I thought I new what was happening all around me, I found I only know what was taught to me. I am learning from novels such as these that that is only part of the story.

  • Angela Scott

    Looks like an intriging premise and should be a good read.

  • Marilyn

    This sounds really interesting and a good read!

  • Lisa

    After reading the excerpt, I am anxious to read the book. I enjoy history and stories set in the South, so I think I would enjoy this book.

  • Amy fischer

    great read

  • cynthia perry

    Growing up in the 60’s in the south I know I would find this a compelling read…thanks

  • sue hieber

    it sounds like i would like to know bezelia, she sounds a lot like me

  • Kellie DeMarsh

    hi i have recently started looking through my ancestor’s so this book wouuld be such a great read.

  • Kim W.

    From reading the excerpt this looks like the perfect book for me!

  • Teresa

    I would love to read this one.

  • Nalini J.

    The book seems interesting. I love the title, it leads me to believe that the lead character will not be any typical Southern Belle. From the excerpt I would definitely read this book and recommend it to others.

  • Jill

    Wow, sounds like a wonderful book! Would love to read it!

  • Jennifer Pelfrey

    This looks like a wonderful book to read!

  • Shannon Bazen

    I can’t wait to read this book. The excerpt was very enticing! I love reading about Civil Right movements. I lived in Nashville for two years. I know that I will enjoy this book.

  • Rebecca Simmons

    As someone who grew up in and still resides in the south, I certainly understand the sometimes subtle nuances of Gilmore’s excerpt. I do believe that southerners should understand where they came from before they tackle the issues of who they are………

  • Brenda Hall

    This appears to be a book that I will thouroughly enjoy reading. I was born and raised in the south and still reside there. This also looks like a book that I will recommend to my friends.

  • Suzanne Himmelberg

    I love reading books about social issues. From the excerpt I read I know I would this book.

  • Amy H.

    I would really love to read this. It reminds me of “the Help”, with a clandestine romance thrown in!

  • Stella

    Intriquing…I think my book club would enjoy this one too.

  • Carrie Seckman

    Love new reads!

  • Ann Marie G.

    This excerpt has caught my interest and I would definitely love to read the rest of the book.

  • Joanie Lippincott

    This author is just what I have been looking for. I love learning about different areas, communities, and also about the family make-up. This looks great, and frankly, I wish that I could continue it now, with my coffee. Thanks for sharing. Can’t wait!

  • Kira, editor at Read It Forward

    Many thanks to everyone who posted. We love hearing your thoughts and are thrilled that so many of you are enjoying this wonderful novel. This giveaway offer ended 9/3/10, but we still want to know what you think of the read. Keep your comments coming!

  • Sarah

    Looking forward to reading this.

  • Katy

    Dang, bummed I missed the drawing for this one! I liked the excerpt and look forward to reading this one in the future;)

  • Fiza

    I love it.

[email_signup id="4" download="" success="Success! Click below to get your bookmarks."]
[email_signup id="4"]