How must they have felt I ask. I write historical fiction primarily from an urge to re-tell the past, rehabilitate the skimpy, fractured, fragmented narratives of the people of The Americas, the so-called New World. I believe that much of the national narrative of The United States is based on limited facts, racially motivated lies and the visceral belief that all people are NOT created equally. .Sometimes it feels like I have a score to settle, an injury to repair. I think I must be a caretaker of imagination so that our race of people are not unimagined and thus disappear from the earth. I feel I need to be like Scheherazade. I think I survive daily because I’m able to continue to tell stories of myself, of ourselves.
– Breena Clarke
READ excerpts of Breena Clarke’s Novels
What techniques can the fiction writer employ to create voices of the past?
They Must Have Felt is an idea that I use I my writing. I try to find a way to express what my historical characters felt and how they acted and reacted in their day to day lives. This is often a huge job because little is known about the individuals I’m most interested in. I have written about the mid-nineteenth century struggle to end chattel slavery in this country in two novels, STAND THE STORM and ANGELS MAKE THEIR HOPE HERE. The many diaries of slave owners, traders and ordinary white people of the era form the basis of much available research of this period. The very important work of imagination has to fill in the gaps. A novelist must know what thoughts and feelings all of their characters have. The mind of the character is precisely where a fiction writer wants to be. And this is precisely why we are so sketchy about the lives of African peoples in this era. Much of historical research does not include their voices.
Thinking about the 19th century, the period in which the enslavement of African people was legal in this country is a hard moment to inhabit.
I begin by posing the questions. How did they feel? How did they react? I nourish myself on details about the daily life of my characters. For this writing tool to be successful, I begin by imagining how a human being lives in the moments I’ve constructed because a novel is a composition of moments just as a play is a composition of beats, small actions.
I’m heading to Washington, D.C. to discuss historical fiction, D.C. Emancipation and to read from my novels set in the city. This event is presented by INKPEN.
for more information, go to Breena Clarke’s Books