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.
But 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.
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