In the conclusion of our interview, we talk about what effect writers can have in exploring stories like the one in Out of Darkness; what responsibilities authors might feel when writing a story that examines issues of race and violence, whether it takes place in the historical past or the present; and how writers decide to tackle endings that don't conform to the traditional "Happily Ever After."
Tanita Davis: Can reading books like OUT OF DARKNESS, which examines the racialized violence of the past, do anything other than provoke disdain for an ignorant history and ancestry and reinforce the idea that racism is a boogeyman from the past for teens who are allegedly post-race and colorblind?
Ashley Hope Pérez: For students who have not had the history of race relations in this country impressed on them (whether academically or in how they experience the world), I can imagine that there will be a desire to quarantine racism to the ward of “evils from history.” But I think readers can do more with Out of Darkness than that. I’ve already begun to suggest this, I suppose, when I said that Out of Darkness asks us to think about the present as well as the past. But you’re right that a lot depends on how readers receive the world of the novel.
in this article about why and how to talk about race with kids.
TD: So maybe there’s an alternative reaction to racism as the boogeyman from the past…
AHP: I think so. Although racism is rarely expressed as openly and directly today as we see it in the experiences of the characters in Out of Darkness, the novel can still attune readers to how racism and inequality persist in our world. The vulnerability of brown and black lives in public spaces is one example; another is the view that some loves are legitimate and some are not. I hope readers’ empathetic response to Naomi, Wash, and other characters primes them to embrace the precious humanity of people like and unlike themselves, especially when those people encounter discrimination or other injustice.
Sarah J. Stevenson: Do you see your book, or other books like it, as a call to action or a form of action in and of itself (or both)? If so --what did writing this book FEEL like you were doing, besides writing a compelling story? What do you feel is the author's responsibility, if any, for making a social statement, and did you feel like you needed or wanted to convey a particular message? Did the act of writing this book feel like it ought to be a crusade?
|Photo of the 1937 New London school explosion|
|An East Texas oil field, historical photo|
Originally, I hoped for a different ending to Out of Darkness. I researched possibilities, charted escape routes, pondered the rare spaces in the world (Canada? The Caribbean? A black colony in Mexico?) where my characters might succeed in making their family. I wanted a positive outcome for Naomi and Wash, a future that, in spite of its challenges, was made bright because they were able to share it with each other. What happened? It wasn’t that this happy ending was impossible; as I said, I ferreted out some historical possibilities and tried to force it for a while. But ultimately that ending proved to be profoundly at odds with the story as it wanted to be. So even though the ending of the novel brings shade upon shade of darkness, even though it denies the reader’s desire for “Happily Ever After,” I believe writing it was my responsibility.
TD: And as tough as it was, at the end of the day, telling the true, and not rearranging for a “Happily Ever After,” is always the right call.
We are thrilled to have had this opportunity to have such a deep, meaningful conversation with the author about the book, about writing, and about the power of stories to help us forge connections with our own history, even (perhaps especially) when that past is uncomfortable or difficult. Thanks, Ashley, for stopping by, and a hat tip to her editor, too, the amazing Andrew Karre at Carolrhoda LAB. If you missed Part 1 or Part 2, just click the links! Also, Ash is over at Diversity in YA today with an essay which gives a bit more background on the hows and whys of her writing OUT OF THE DARKNESS. The essay is called, "Words That Wake Us."