My mother used to bring home old newspapers and Newsweek magazines after the white family she worked for threw them in the trash. I learned about the Civil Rights Movement from those old magazines. The newspaper-The Clayton Record (as in Clayton, Alabama home of the notorious Governor George C. Wallace) wasn’t interesting, mostly farm information, marriages, births and obits. No black folks were ever mentioned. I would entertain my sisters by standing on our kitchen table and not just read but perform the social section of the newspaper. For example, someone would have a fish fryer and the guests would be listed. When I read it I added what the women wore and what music was playing in the lovely garden. I created the tableware with linen table clothes and napkins, candles and flowers. The flowers would vary depending on what season it. That was the beginning of my love of storytelling.
Later my English teacher would check books out of our small town library for me since blacks couldn’t do such a thing. When I got to middle school, there was a small library. That English teacher loved talking to me about the books. Every summer she would give me a reading list: The Catcher and the Rye, Animal Farm, Nancy Drew, Little Women, etc. When I was twelve I read Gone With the Wind. Mrs. Duck was so impressed she sent me a letter of congratulations on her baby blue personal stationery. The more I read the more I wanted to read.
My writing today is centered around ordinary people with extra-ordinary lives, but without a voice. It is my responsibility as a writer to study and share history, especially that of African Americans. My first book From Whence Cometh My Help: The African American Community at Hollins College originated around that premise. I learned of this community when I was a graduate student at Hollins University. When the College was founded in 1842 the founder and early students brought enslaved people with them. Thus a tradition was born. This was not a tradition just at Hollins but throughout the United States. My latest project is The Theory of Grace: A Civil Right Memoir. I have interviewed 10 individuals who lives were changed by the Civil Rights Movement. In between chapters I tell my story since I am a child of the Civil Rights Movement.
I write because I’ve always had a love for reading. And I knew the world was larger and loftier than my small world of rural Alabama. Books took me to those different worlds. I also write because I never read stories or books that represented my life and the lives of other black folks. Writing about my world will always include history and social justice. Writing is way to be more inclusive and contribute to the world in honesty and fairness. Finally writing is a way to honor the ancestors and offer gifts to future generations.
Ethel Morgan Smith is the author of two books: From Whence Cometh My Help: The African American Community at Hollins College and Reflections of the Other: Being Black in Germany. She has also published in The New York Times, Callaloo, African American Review, and other national and international outlets.
Smith has received the following: Fulbright Scholar-University of Tubingen, Germany, Rockefeller Fellowship-Bellagio Italy, Visiting Artist-The American Academy in Rome, DuPont Fellow-Randolph Macon Women’s College, Visiting Scholar-Women’s Studies Research Center-Brandies University, The Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Bread Loaf Fellowship, and PLAYA
Linda K. Sienkiewicz is the author of the award-winning novel In the Context of Love, a story about one woman’s need to tell her truth without shame.
2017 New Apple Book Awards Official Selection
2016 Sarton Women’s Fiction Finalist
2016 Eric Hoffer Book Award Finalist
2016 Readers’ Favorite Finalist
2016 USA Book News Best Book Finalist
“…at once a love story, a cautionary tale, and an inspirational journey.” ~ Bonnie Jo Campbell, author of National Book Award Finalist, American Salvage