Hello Everyone and welcome to my stop on Lisa Braxton’s blog tour for The Talking Drum. Special thanks goes out to her publicist Laura Marie for getting this book into my hands. Here is where you can get your copy now:
In 1971, the fictional city of Bellport, Massachusetts is in decline with an urban redevelopment project on the horizon. The project promises to transform the dying factory town into a thriving economic center, with a profound effect on its residents. Sydney Stallworth steps away her law degree in order to support her husband Malachi’s dream of opening a cultural center and bookstore in the heart of their black community, Liberty Hill. Across the street, Della Tolliver has built a fragile sanctuary for herself, boyfriend Kwamé Rodriguez, and daughter Jasmine, a troubled child prone to frequent outbursts.
Six blocks away and across the Bellport River Bridge lies Petite Africa, a lively neighborhood, where time moves slower and residents spill from run-down buildings onto the streets. Here Omar Bassari, an immigrant from Senegal known to locals as Drummer Man, dreams of being the next Duke Ellington, spreading his love of music and African culture across the world, even as his marriage crumbles around him and his neighborhood goes up in flames. An arsonist is on the loose. As more buildings burn, the communities are joined together and ripped apart. In Petite Africa, a struggling community fights for their homes, businesses, and culture. In Liberty Hill, others see opportunity and economic growth. As the pace of the suspicious fires pick up, the demolition date moves closer, and plans for gentrification are laid out, the residents find themselves at odds with a political system manipulating their lives. “It’s a shame,” says Malachi, after a charged city council meeting, where residents of Petite Africa and Liberty Hill sit on opposing sides. “We do so much for Petite Africa. But still, we fight.”
Meet the Author
Lisa Braxton is an Emmy-nominated former television journalist, an essayist, short story writer, and novelist. She is a fellow of the Kimbilio Fiction Writers Program and was a finalist in the William Faulkner-William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition. She earned her MFA in creative writing from Southern New Hampshire University, her M.S. in journalism from Northwestern University, and her B.A. in Mass Media from Hampton University. Her stories have been published in anthologies and literary journals. She lives in the Boston, Massachusetts area.
Interview with Lisa Braxton
Q: The Talking Drum draws a lot from your own personal experience. I was curious when was the first time you saw yourself reflected back in a book?
A: Actually, I did not see myself reflected in any of the books I was reading while I was growing up. I grew up reading The Nancy Drew mysteries, The Hollister Family, The Bobbsey Twins, Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, Harriet the Spy, Charlotte’s Web and many others. I loved these books. They helped to grow my love for reading and my desire to become a writer, but they didn’t reflect the world of a middle class African American girl growing up in the 1960s and 1970s enrolled at a parochial elementary school. I continue to be a voracious reader, but I still have not come across books that I can really identify with. I believe that’s helped to fuel my interest in writing about the kinds of African American characters that aren’t often seen in print.
Q: In your book The Talking Drum it focuses on a neighborhood called Petite Africa and there are three central couples within the story. I know that you developed this book around your parents experience with redevelopment and gentrification. Which of the three couples would you say is most like your parents?
A: Sydney and Malachi are most like my parents. Sydney has agreed to leave her law studies to support Malachi’s dream to open up a business in his hometown, Bellport. Sydney feels torn between finishing her studies and supporting what her husband wants to do. She’s trying to find her voice in the marriage. It may take her a while to learn how to assert herself.
When my father was a child her operated a little store in his neighborhood in a rural area of Virginia. Back then retail establishments were closed weekends. He’d buy candy and other items during the week and increase the price and sell those items on the weekend when they were impossible to get elsewhere. He loved retail. His dream was to operate a store when he became an adult. In 1969 when my parents were in their 30s, they opened a men’s clothing store in an urban area of Bridgeport, Connecticut. My mother wasn’t too thrilled with the idea, but it was something my father wanted to do. She decided to support his dream. She also at one time considered law school.
Q: Who is your favorite author and why?
A: Langston Hughes. I love his fiction. His writing has the ability to make me feel a range of emotions. Some of his short fiction was so touching that I would start crying while I was reading.
Q: What was the last book that thoroughly moved you? What was it about that book that spoke to your spirit and your heart?
A: The Street, by Ann Petry was the last book that thoroughly moved me. I had not experienced what Petry’s main character, Lutie Johnson went through, but from the beginning I understood what was at stake for Lutie. She wanted to provide a good and safe home for her son and become more upwardly mobile. Whenever a female character is striving for better, whether depicted in a movie or book, I’m there with the character urging them on. I know what it’s like to have ambition that you feel so strongly that you won’t let anything or anyone stop you. Petry’s novel had me on the edge of my seat as a read through pages that were filled with suspense and tension. All the while I was hoping for the character Lutie Johnson to beat the odds.
Q: I read in an article that your first short story Kitchen Fan is about your uncle. Would you say that all of your books are written based on people who are close to you? What else inspires your writing?
A: Usually the characters in my stories are composites, not based on anyone in particular. I find that I can develop the characters with more depth if I don’t base them on someone I know. I think I would feel self-conscious and want to be too polite as I developed a character if I based the individual on a real person. The veiled fiction about my uncle was an exception. I’m often inspired by situations. In the early stages of The Talking Drum I began developing the themes of urban redevelopment and gentrification. I know of at least a dozen people, including my parents who have been affected by those issues.
Q: How old were you when you first started writing?
A: Probably 10 or 11. I say that because I remember writing little stories and my sister, who is 6 years younger than me, enjoying them. She would have to have been at least 4 or so to understand what I was writing about. I’d write about dogs, horses, and other animals. I even personified a wall, giving it a personality and dialogue. My parents always gave me positive feedback, which encouraged me to keep at it.