Festival of Women Writers 2017 Holiday Book Gift Guide

Celebrating five consecutive years of platforming women’s writing, The Hobart Festival of Women Writers has created a video guide to books by Festival authors.

video by Festival co-organizer, Breena Clarke

for more information about Hobart Festival of Women Writers, go to www.hobartfestivalofwomenwriters.com

for more about the Festival’s participating writers, go to www.hobartfestivalofwomenwriters.blog

about Breena Clarke, go to



An Interview with Breena Clarke

Featured Image -- 1313

 Breena Clarke speaks to Write Angles, a one day writer’s conference in Eastern Massachusetts, November 18, 2017.

Breena Clarke is this year’s featured after-lunch speaker.  She was interviewed by Liz Bedell.

Why did you become a writer? When did the writing bug first bite you?

Firstly, No biting, especially not insects. I come naturally to writing I would say. I have always been inspired by books, since my very first trip to the public library. These buildings in my childhood in Washington, D.C. were pleasant places. I majored in theater, acting at Howard University and I wrote and directed and performed plays. So I’ve always felt like a writerly person. But the thing or series of events that made me into a committed, daily, working writer began with the early death of my son, Najeeb. Motivated to record all of his life that I could remember, I began keeping small notebooks capturing thoughts and observations. A friend said that writing is like a muscle. The more exercise it gets, the stronger it becomes. I suppose I exercised my writer’s imagination through these books that I still have and that have never actually served any purpose other than as personal writing. The important part is that I began a training regimen for my mind. I consumed the good books written by others and launched into my own inquiries. I set aside time for writing, for developing an idea.

What is the most rewarding part of being a writer?

Non seriously, but with humor at self: Reading what you’ve written a few days earlier that reads well and you think, “Hey, this girl is good, who is she?”

Seriously, but not wanting to sound self-satisfied: When someone comes up to you and tells you how moved they were when they read your work or heard you read. This is the moment of greatest satisfaction for me. It comes right before the “hey, who is this girl?” moment.

And the most frustrating part of being a writer?

I don’t know that yet. I haven’t gotten there yet. My mind is still sharp, and my energy is good, so I feel productive as a writer. Productivity relieves writerly frustration for me.

Can you tell us about your most recent novel? What inspired it?

I was inspired to write ANGELS MAKE THEIR HOPE HERE by an interest in imagining the lives and community of people living outside the strictures imposed by racist white America. It’s set in mid-19th century New Jersey. Loosely based on the so-called Ramapo Mountain people, who were said to have been a tri-racial maroon community in the mid-Atlantic region, the people of Russell’s Knob privilege no color above another. And though they are insular, they welcome those who escape from oppression in the white towns. I enjoyed speculating on this somewhat utopian vision of racial amalgamation rather than separation. The novel has at its climax the horrible events of the New York City Draft Riots (July 13-16, 1863).

For more of this interview, go to https://writeanglesconference.com

For further discussion of ANGELS MAKE THIER HOPE HERE, listen to Breena Clarke’s podcast interview with Tim Knox for  Placing Literature


visit www.BreenaClarke.com

River, Cross My Heart   Stand The Storm      Clarke-AngelsMakeTheirHope




Since when is new?

“New York! New Amsterdam! Act! Grandmother spit when she say it. She say ‘since when is new?’ Grandmother’s spittle runs into our creeks. It sustains us. We won’t die of thirst in these hills.Our Grandmother sleeps there up ahead. She is taking her well-earned nap. Her lips fall back. Spittle runs our of the side of her mouth while she sleeps. The hills, the outcropping, the ridges, these are her misshapen teeth. Them sharp juts are what remain when flesh pulls back from bone.”  from ANGELS MAKE THEIR HOPE HERE

Angels Make Their Hope Here     Dossie Smoot

Since when is new, 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. 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 survive daily because I’m able to continue to tell stories of myself/OURSELVES. 

                                 Breena Clarke

read an excerpt of ANGELS MAKE THEIR HOPE HERE  http://bit.ly/2kUtZZ4

visit Breena’s website: www.BreenaClarke.com


Breena Clarke’s books


February (Feb-roo-airy) has 28 Days


Dr. Carter G. Woodson

February is the month designated to honor and celebrate the achievements and culture of African Americans in the United States. Dr. Carter G. Woodson (1875-1950), www.blackpast.org/aah/woodson-carter an African American historian, author, journalist and the founder of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. launched the celebration of “Negro History Week” in February 1926; it was the precursor of Black History Month.

Breena Professional Photo

Novelist, Breena Clarke celebrates the history of African peoples in the Americas in three critically acclaimed novels. Add these to your “GotToRead” list for February 2017.

IMG_0598    Eight-year-old Clara Bynum is dead, drowned in the Potomac River in the shadow of an apparently haunted rock outcropping known locally as the Three Sisters. In scenes alive with emotional truth, River, Cross My Heart weighs the effect of Clara’s absence on the people she has left behind: her parents, Alice and Willie Bynum, torn between the old world of their rural North Carolina home and the new world of the city, to which they have moved in search of a better life for themselves and their children; the friends and relatives of the Bynum family in the Georgetown neighborhood they now call home; and, most especially, Clara’s sister, twelve-year-old Johnnie Mae, who must come to terms with the powerful and confused emotions sparked by her sister’s death as she struggles to decide and discover the kind of woman she will become. Read an excerpt here:  http://bit.ly/2kP20hF

IMG_0599   Even though Sewing Annie Coats and her son, Gabriel, have managed to buy their freedom, their lives are still marked by constant struggle and sacrifice. Washington’s Georgetown neighborhood, where the Coatses operate a tailor’s shop and laundry, is supposed to be a “promised land” for former slaves but is effectively a frontier town, gritty and dangerous, with no laws protecting black people.The remarkable emotional energy with which the Coatses wage their daily battles-as they negotiate with their former owner, as they assist escaped slaves en route to freedom, as they prepare for the encroaching war, and as they strive to love each other enough-is what propels Stand the Storm. Read an excerpt here: http://bit.ly/2kNABZR

Clarke-AngelsMakeTheirHope   ANGELS MAKE THEIR HOPE HERE is set in an imagined community in a mountainous area roughly north and west of Paterson, New Jersey in the 19th century. Russell’s Knob is a hidden, secretive place settled by people who might be described today as bi-racial or tri-racial. The inhabitants describe themselves as runaways and stay-aways. They are people who reject the limiting definitions of racial identity and character of 19th century, mid-Atlantic, North America and live outside of the “white” towns. They are spoken of derisively as “amalgamators” and “race mixers” though their true history is as complex as is the history of settlement in the region. Read an excerpt here: http://bit.ly/1NZsFus

Visit Breena’s website at: www.BreenaClarke.com

https://www.facebook.com/angelsmaketheirhopehere on Facebook

Breena_Clarke onTwitter


When She Climbed From The Pool

 Since they opened the public swimming pool for white folks only on Volta Place, right across the street from her Aunt Ina’s house, the pleasures of Higgins Hole were diminished for Johnnie Mae. In that public pool the water was so clear! Clara said it must be ice water. Clara said they must get big blocks of ice from the ice man on Potomac Street and put them in there. She was certain of this because the white boys and girls they saw through the fence and bushes surrounding the pool were always shivering.        from RIVER, CROSS MY HEART


In the 1990’s my mother tape-recorded her oral recollections of having grown up in Georgetown in the 1920’s, 30’s and forties. When she retold incidents related to the segregated swimming pool on Volta Place, her voice changed dramatically. Much of her story was like all the anecdotes she and my father told and retold on our summer rides through this mostly affluent part of town. Georgetown in the 1960’s was where Kennedy-era politicos built townhouses and bought up the historic mansions that had always been located there. Because of the Old Georgetown Act of 1950, most of the African American community had been forced out in the early 50’s. My father’s family owned one of the houses on “P” street that became the last block of African American residents in Georgetown.


James Sheridan Clarke, Jr., my father, and James Sheridan Clarke, Sr., his father in front of 2721 “P” St. N.W. Georgetown,  Washington, D.C.

My parents’ recollections  of Georgetown were vivid and complex. They told fairly frank stories about the segregation they lived with, but had as well many stories of community, camaraderie and achievement.

When my mother spoke on the tape about the pool on Volta Place her voice changed so distinctly that I had a visceral response. I think my head snapped to attention. I’m sure I listened to her again and again. It was not the particulars of the tale. I’d heard all of the stories many times. I knew she’d been a fierce, bold, athletic swimming girl. But I’d never before heard the great change in her voice. Her voice had not been light and airy – that wouldn’t ever have been my mother’s voice — but it was relaxed and carefree. I recognized that she was softening and brightening her narration for my benefit. She was taking this project seriously so she was trying to give me helpful, positive information. When she began to talk about her feelings of wanting to swim in the whites only pool that was across the street from her aunt’s house, but that barred any colored/Negro/Black /African American people I felt arrested, compelled, riveted. My mother was not always self-revelatory. She was sometimes a secret- keeper and a grudge-holder. The change was in the timbre of her voice – a change that was not shrill or more vehement, but changed. A bell rang – sort of. It signaled that she was expressing certain childhood feelings, but I was to know that she no longer felt this small, raw way. I thought she did very much still feel those angers and that she was justified and I knew then that I’d write the novel that became RIVER, CROSS MY HEART just for this reason. I could make a novel of it because this was a story I could lift and carry for a while.

“How come we can’t go in that pool and swim?” Johnny Mae had repeatedly asked Aunt Ina since the beginning of summer.

“You don’t need to be over there anyway,” Aunt Ina had answered time and again.


My mother became an outstanding swimmer. She had her first lessons at Francis Junior High School’s pool. She no doubt already had the rudiments of swimming because she told me they really did dip into the C&O Canal for swimming. A young medical student who would later become Dr. Charles R. Drew (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_R._Drew), the renowned African American physician, taught her formally at Francis pool. My mother called him Charlie Drew and always mentioned his handsomeness and his brother’s and spoke of his generosity in teaching all of Georgetown’s African American children to swim. A large part of my parents’ Georgetown narrative reflects a staunch optimism and wry humor with examples of uplift, misfortune, haplessness, foolishness, bravery, compassion and meanness added. They were all good stories.

The only childhood photo we have of Edna Higgins is this very young one. Her swimming exploits mostly took place after this was taken and before adulthood.

Little Edna Edna Higgins in Georgetown circa 1920.


Dr. Charles R. Drew

By the time I accompanied my parents on automobile rides through the old Georgetown neighborhood, the carriage houses and servant’s quarters of the rich and famous had become the luxury townhouses of the nouveau. My parents liked to point out places where they’d lived and played, their favorite landmarks. Despite legal desegregation, Black children still weren’t swimming in the pool on Volta Place.

On the tape, despite all efforts to thwart it, my mother’s young girl self showed up to talk about her feelings. All of those years later she’d remembered and was articulate and analytical. She still recalled that deep sense of thwarted opportunity. I can no longer remember her words. I have the cassette tape and some written answers to specific queries I made. (She gave me the 411 on menstruation in her era in a frank, specific, helpful and surprising way.) I don’t think I used any of her actual words when I created the character Johnnie Mae Bynum in RIVER, CROSS MY HEART, but my mother gave me a model of access. She helped me to formulate my key – my trigger — to an emotional voice that takes on the timbre of true/deep.

Blue Breena   Breena Clarke in Pershing Field Pool, Jersey City, N.J.

“River, Cross My Heart” is available in all formats. Link here to purchase: http://bit.ly/BuyBreenaClarkeBooks

My most recent novel, “Angels Make Their Hope Here,” is available in paperback with Reading Group Guides on July 14th.  Link here: http://bit.ly/1S8f8Wb for my “Angels” blog. To purchase a copy, link here: http://bit.ly/BuyBreenaClarkeBooks