The Theme of Race
As my novel unfolded, it seemed implausible to me not to write about the racial wounds and tensions I remembered from growing up in the South in the 1950s and 60s. I remember, for instance, when the Ku Klux Klan came to my hometown one Saturday wearing white robes and hoods, streaming into the stores along Front Street, and how everyone scattered, both black and white, except for me and my friend, who got trapped behind a table with an elderly black woman who lifted her chin and rolled out her lip in a picture of defiance and challenge. I was littered with these sorts of images, the kind, which psychologically I could not really digest. As a writer, I felt compelled to do something with them, at the very least give witness to them through story. I didnt put the Ku Klux Klan story into the novel; my job is to imagine deeply, not recount my history. But still, I kept recalling the elderly black woman in the shoe store when I wrote about Rosaleens encounter with the three racists.
Writing Lilys story against the historical backdrop of racial turmoil was not merely about private catharsis, however. I believe that images, such as the one I mentioned above, carry social relevance in the same manner that all images of historical cruelty do. So, I guess youd say I felt a need, and beyond that, a kind of responsibility, to offer up my images in hope of a wider redemption.