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Oceanside Native's First Novel About Ordinary Black Lives Met With Praise

Oceanside native, Brit Bennett, author of "The Mothers" is pictured in this photo taken on October 12, 2016.
KPBS Staff
Oceanside native, Brit Bennett, author of "The Mothers" is pictured in this photo taken on October 12, 2016.

Oceanside Native's First Novel About Ordinary Black Lives Met With Praise
Oceanside Native's First Novel About Ordinary Black Lives Met With Praise GUEST:Brit Bennett, author, "The Mothers"

This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. Detailing the common and unique experiences of African-American life is a rare thing in literature which is one reason a new novel called "The Mothers" is gaining such attention. It's the first novel from Brit Bennett. She became widely known after her essay "I don't know what to do with good white people," was published on the website Jezebel. Her novel is set in her hometown of Oceanside. Welcome to the show. You started writing this novel at the age of 17. That's the same age as your main care to Nadia, as a novel took shape was it like gaining a new understanding of your own self? Yes. I think so. There are ways that my understanding of the characters changed and I began to think about my hometown. Can you give us an idea of what "The Mothers" is about . It's about a girl named Nadia who is gifted in ambitious who wants to go to college. In the wake of her mother's death, she ends up falling for the pastor's son, she gets pregnant and decides to terminate and the book follows her life and the lives of others in the church after she's made this decision. It's an area did -- narrated by a chorus of church mothers who are observing and commenting and gossiping about the younger characters. As a result, they shape what ultimately happens to the church. You are from Oceanside, the book is set in Oceanside is is a prime example of write about what you know? I think so. I never thought of it as being a California book or in Oceanside book. Oceanside was all I knew. When I left to go to college in the Bay area and later in the Midwest. IA began to have a different perspective. I realized the things that were particular to that place was something that became more rich as they gained more physical distance.'s -- A lot of people are surprised that it wasn't in the South or in an urban area. It amused me. Someone asked me what political statement where you making by setting the book, not in the South or the urban North. I said to myself, black people live everywhere. I grew up in Oceanside, it's racially diverse. It was about representing an experience. I didn't think of it as being as novel as people have told me. Black people from San Diego, I did not think it was novel. This was my life growing up. I have taken pride in the fact that I was able to represent an experience that not a lot of people knew. I have had some blacks and Diegans reach out and thanked me for representing an experience of being black in a beach town which is not the same as living in Detroit or New York or Mississippi. In the essay from Jezebel, "I don't know what to do with good white people," you find yourself in the position of having good experiences, yet you find yourself being black being more vulnerable to injustice and violence at the hands of white people. What do you think writing can do about that kind of racial injustice? Can it do anything? I hope it can. I think that with fiction it's to build empathy. As humans, we can never know what another person is thinking or feeling. When we read fiction, we can be inside someone else's head, we can be inside someone else's body and experience what they are. I do believe the potential of fiction will help build bridges across experiences. That's been one of the most exciting things for me about this book. All people have responded so warmly to this book. I did not expected to resonate so widely. That has been something that has been exciting and encouraging to me. The essay that you wrote just took off and became an Internet sensation. You said you don't want to become a go to black person, the one that you call when something bad happens. Will you be writing more on the topic of racial injustice. Not necessarily in a novel form? I never saw myself as an essayist. The Jezebel piece was the first that I wrote. I do enjoy writing nonfiction, I probably will continue to write about race and gender and the other topics that interest me. I became very ambivalent. There would be editors that contacted me every time there was a shooting of a black person and I had reached a point where I did not know if I had a new thing to say about this topic. That was part of my ambivalence. "The Mothers" is gaining critical praise. Have there been certain comments that you found gratifying? The comments that made me tear up, I've talked to a couple of young black woman who have told me this was one of their first experiences where they felt like lack woman were crafted with very rich interior emotional lives. It made me choke up, that shouldn't be novel or notable. I think there are other writers who are doing that work. There is something that is unusual to write a book about ordinary black people. It's not set in the past, it's not a historical moment, it's not civil rights or slavery. It's just contemporary, ordinary black people having ordinary problems. Those are the comments that make me happy and proud. Brit Bennett will be speaking about her novel "The Mothers" at Warwick's Books in La Jolla tonight at 7:30 PM. Be sure to watch KPBS evening edition at 5 and 6:30 tonight on KPBS television. Join us tomorrow for KPBS Midday Edition at noon. If you ever miss a show you can check out the midday edition podcast@KPBS.org/podcast. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. Thank you for listening.

Oceanside native and author Brit Bennett's first novel, "The Mothers," is getting a lot of buzz. Before publishing this novel, Bennett made a splash with a 2014 essay about racial injustice for the online publication Jezebel, titled: “I don’t know what to do with good white people,” which was viewed by more than a million people within three days of its publication.

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"The Mothers," which is set in Oceanside depicts the ordinary lives of African-Americans.

Bennett will be speaking at Warwick's Books at 7812 Girard Avenue in La Jolla at 7:30 pm.

Bennett joins Midday Edition Wednesday to discuss her novel and writing about racial injustice.

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