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Community and Belonging During Times of Trouble
By Melissa Schack
Lisa Braxton is an essayist, short story writer, and now, a novelist. Her debut novel, The Talking Drum, is scheduled for release on May 30th. Based in the Boston, Massachusetts area, she has published numerous stories and essays in publications such as the Vermont Literary Review, Black Lives Have Always Mattered, and Chicken Soup for the Soul.
She believes “the arts are a form of ‘health food’ for our brains.” If that’s the case, we should devour her book. Check out her publisher’s website and her author page. You can also follow her on Twitter @LisaReidbraxton and Instagram lisabraxton6186.
What inspired you to write The Talking Drum?
I was writing a story about a man and woman who owned a bookstore in the 1970s and eventually, gentrification entered the story. I suppose it was in my subconscious. My parents owned and operated a clothing store in Bridgeport, Connecticut, beginning in 1969 and going into the 2000s. This was an urban, working-class neighborhood. As time went on my parents had fewer and fewer customers because the homes along the waterfront area were being taken by eminent domain for upscale housing and entertainment venues. A lot of their customers were pushed out. Also, the church I attend has been affected by gentrification or urban redevelopment. A mostly African American neighborhood near the church was cut in half in the late 1960s to make way for an expansion of the Mass Pike. People lost their homes and also their sense of community. So I think it was in the back of my mind as I was developing the story. So many people I know have been affected by urban redevelopment. If they haven’t been affected directly, a family member has or someone in their social circle, or their hometown is now so different from the way it was when they were growing up because of urban redevelopment. I believe that’s why I made urban development/gentrification the major theme of the book.
Do you have a favorite line from your book you can share with us?
“He missed the nights early in their relationship, when he would leave their bed to turn off the lamp across the room and in a husky voice she would say, “Hurry back.” Maybe they could recapture that tonight.
How has COVID-19 affected your career and your personal life?
Up until recently, I worked a full-time job. I was laid off in mid-February of this year, not because of COVID-19, but because the organization I worked for had been losing millions of dollars per year. Layoffs had happened in waves for the past several years. This February was my turn.
Two independent bookstores were working with my publisher to have me do in-person events this summer. However, those bookstores have shut down due to COVID-19. They’ve had a “hard” shutdown. They’re not doing curbside service, have not provided updated communication through social media or their websites. I had also planned to do a book party in my hometown with my graduating class. We had a reunion last year with more than 100 people and everyone was looking forward to it. Of course, I had to cancel that.
Personally, I have not been affected as of yet. Family and friends are fine, and I hope it stays that way.
Why is it important for people to support the arts, even during times of uncertainty?
The arts help to expand our minds. I feel that the arts are a form of “health food” for our brains. The arts give us an escape in good times as well as bad times. For many gifted artists, the only way they can earn a living is through their art and they need our support, especially now when so many people are suffering.
What are your book recommendations for those who are looking for material to read during mass quarantine?
I just finished reading The Street by Ann Petry. I’m so glad there’s been a renewed interest in Petry and her novel. The Street, her 1946 debut, became the first novel by an African-American woman to sell more than a million copies and with good reason. The book was a treat to read, and I found it hard to put down. It was full of suspense, drama, and many poignant moments.
The other day I attended a Zoom book party for Lisa Duffy, author of My Kind of People. I have not read it yet, but the book sounds intriguing. It’s described as a profound novel about the power of community and a small town’s long-buried secrets as a group of New England islanders come together for a recently orphaned girl.
The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek was a charming book, historical fiction, filled with little-known details about the packhorse librarians of Kentucky. Kim Michele Richardson did an excellent job of keeping the story engaging. The book tugged at my heart. I still think about the plot and the characters.
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