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Q&A with Angela Jackson-Brown - Homeward



By Leah Wingenroth


We are excited to welcome Angela Jackson-Brown to The Reading Corner to talk about her new release, Homeward, released on the 10th October 2023.


The country is changing, and her own world is being turned upside down. Nothing—and no one—will ever be the same. Georgia, 1962.  Rose Perkins Bourdon returns home to Parsons, GA, without her husband and pregnant with another man’s baby. After tragedy strikes her husband in the war overseas, a numb Rose is left with pieces of who she used to be and is forced to figure out what she is going to do with the rest of her life. Her sister introduces her to members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee—young people are taking risks and fighting battles Rose has only seen on television. Feeling emotions for the first time in what feels like forever, the excited and frightened Rose finds herself becoming increasingly involved in the resistance efforts. And of course, there is also the young man, Isaac Weinberg, whose passion for activism stirs something in her she didn’t think she would ever feel again. Homeward  follows Rose’s path toward self-discovery and growth as she becomes involved in the Civil Rights Movement, finally becoming the woman she has always dreamed of being.




Thanks for chatting with me, and congratulations on your recent release Homeward! Could you first share a bit about your background and your journey with this novel?


Thank you, Leah. This book, as well as the other books connected to Parsons, Georgia, have been a labour of love for me for almost 17 years now. These stories started as short stories in my creative thesis that I wrote at the Naslund Mann School of Writing at Spalding University back in the early 2000s. Thanks to the guidance of several amazing mentors, I took the short stories and developed them into novels. The first novel in the “series” was When Stars Rain Down and Homeward picks up on the family I created in that book nearly 30 years later. When Stars Rain Down focused on a teenager named Opal Pruitt and this book is about her daughter, Rose.


Which story first captured your own love of the written word?


It would be very difficult for me to say which book captured my love of writing because I don’t

remember a time when I wasn’t surrounded by books, whether that be The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss or The Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder or the Amelia Bedelia series by Peggy Parish, books have been a constant in my life, but I will say, when I was in third grade, my teacher, Mrs. Kennedy, introduced me to the first book I ever read by a Black author, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou. That book taught me that people who look and sound like me and the people in my community have stories worthy to be told.


How does your extensive writing background in other mediums inform your novel writing? Do you see certain scenes staged out in your head?


As a playwright, I definitely “see” the scene from every object in the room or ever tree or plant

outside. I try to make sure I am mindful of setting and its importance to the story. Also, because I am a poet, I strive to employ the techniques of poetry in my fiction. How a sentence sounds is as important to me as the information it conveys.


Rose’s family has so much depth and contains so many fascinating relationships. Do you see your own family in the Perkins family? Are they inspired by the people you grew up with?


Similar to Rose, I grew up in a small, rural town filled with lots of love and family. Rose has a close relationship with her mother that I didn’t have, but the relationship she has with her father, Cedric, is very reminiscent of the relationship I had with my daddy. The uncles in the story are definitely my uncles on my daddy’s side reincarnated on the page. They were strong men who were dedicated to their family’s. They weren’t perfect men, but they tried to do their best.


Faith and religion play a big part in the community building of Homeward. What inspired you to put Christianity and Judaism in conversation alongside the other conflicts of the story?


Putting Christianity and Judaism in conversation with each other was a natural occurrence

considering how intricate members of the Jewish faith were to the civil rights movement. It would have been impossible for me to tell the story of the 1960s civil rights movement without including Jewish people. It would be like trying to tell the story of the movement and only mentioning the men, Dr. King, John Lewis, Reverend Abernathy, without talking about the women who played such a powerful role in the movement like Coretta Scott King, Judy Richardson, or Diane Nash.


We know Jasper is a victim of friendly fire. Is there more to that story? Part of me read his death as the intentional assassination of a young, aspiring African American pilot.


That is an interesting take on what happened to Jasper. That wasn’t my intention, but I did want to show how even though Jasper’s death wasn’t on the battlefield, it was just as heart breaking and traumatic to those who loved him.


Rose is a very multifaceted, flawed person, as we all are. We see her make mistakes and falter in her confidence, but she ultimately finds a way to persevere through all the grief. What do you want readers to take away from her journey toward independence and self-actualization?


When I first created the character of Rose, I wasn’t thinking she would be the main protagonist in the story. I actually was debating between Opal, her mother, and Ellena, her sister. To me, they were the “strongest” characters and would be the “perfect” heroine. Then, after I really got to know Rose through my outlining and researching, I realised that I didn’t want to write a story about a “perfect” character. I wanted to show how a character, who at first glance, didn’t seem like the kind of character people would root for, could emerge as the character we root for the most.


I was pleasantly surprised to see Rose become Parsons's first black registered voter rather than Ellena or even Lawrence. Though not the most fiery or headstrong of her family, it felt right that she was the one to pave the way. What inspired you to make that choice?


It would have been to easy to pick Ellena or Lawrence. The character who needed redemption the most – for herself and for the reader – was Rose. Once I made the decision that she was my protagonist, I knew she would be the one to register to vote first.


Do you see Homeward as a sequel to When Stars Rain Down? Or, more so, another instalment in an anthology of stories about this town and this family?


I would say the latter. Although the reader will have a richer experience if they read the novels in order, none of the books, from When Stars Rain Down to The Light Always Breaks to Homeward depends on the others for understanding of the plot. A reader can read the books however they like and still feel as if they understand the characters and who they are.


Are we going to see more stories from you about the Perkins extended family and Parsons,

Georgia?


Right now, I have one book in mind to write. It is about a minor character from When Stars Rain Down. She is dead by the time Homeward comes along, but she is mentioned. Her name is Miss Lovenia. She is a root woman, and I am fascinated by the challenge of telling her story and the story of the maternal line in her family.





Angela Jackson-Brown is an award-winning writer, poet and playwright who teaches Creative Writing at Indiana University in Bloomington. She also teaches in the Naslund-Mann School of Writing at Spalding University in Louisville, KY. She is a graduate of Troy University, Auburn University and the Spalding Naslund-Mann low-residency MFA program in Creative Writing. She is the author of several novels, including the soon-to-be released, Homeward, and has published in numerous literary journals. Her publisher is Harper Muse, an imprint of HarperCollins.



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