At the Crossroads of Write and Rite

Welcome to my new website, www.maggiekast.com and the new site for my blog, formerly Ritual and Rhubarb Pie on Blogger, now here on WordPress. I’ll still be reporting on meals and other rituals, stretching that term to include annual family reunions, nightly performances, daily writing practice as well as weekly public worship. Let’s say a blog at the crossroads of rite and write. A special welcome to all the new readers who have signed up as users on WordPress. I welcome comments and look forward to responding.

The birth of a book is a labor that can slow at mid-point and threaten to fail, just like the birth of a baby. A few weeks ago, when my novel, A Free, Unsullied Land, had been edited and the cover art chosen, the final print proof on its way to me, I found myself stuck in an in-between place. I felt as distracted as the character about whom I was writing a story, though he is a grieving widower and I’m a recovered and merry widow. I found myself switching from blog post to story draft, e-mail to website-in-progress, journal to press release to list of possible sponsors for events, much as my character ricocheted from acupuncture to magnets, talk to drugs, eye movement therapy to boiled Chinese herbs. That story is still in the works, tentatively titled “Checking Out.”

Then proof arrived, very clean, and I soon got advance reader copies and began sending them out, first to pre-publications reviewers like Publisher’s Weekly (for which I may well be too late), then local reviewers like newspapers, radio, book sites and more. The novel takes place in Chicago, 1930 and combines a rendering of character and story with an incisive depiction of a critical moment in history. The book transports nineteen-year-old Henriette Greenberg into the heart of the Jim Crow South to protest the 1931 conviction of the so-called Scottsboro Boys.

01 Jan 1934, Washington, DC, USA --- Hundreds of demonstrators march in Washington D.C. against the trials in the Scottsboro case. In the Scottsboro case nine young black men were falsely accused of raping two white women in a freight car. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

01 Jan 1934, Washington, DC, USA — Hundreds of demonstrators march in Washington D.C. against the trials in the Scottsboro case. In the Scottsboro case nine young black men were falsely accused of raping two white women in a freight car. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

“In the most surprising and wonderful ways, it is an epic novel,” says Kevin McIlvoy, author of 58 Octaves Below Middle C and former director of the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College.

Henriette seeks escape from her abusive home through immersion in jazz and bad sex that leaves her cold. Falling in love with Dilly Brannigan, a graduate student in anthropology, she adopts his work as her own. A powerful funeral ritual gives her hope of rewriting her family story but also tempts her to violate an Apache taboo, thus threatening her relationship with Dilly and her longed-for escape.

Fans of Sara Gruen’s At the Water’s Edge and Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale will relate to this story with its historical denial of sexual abuse and gay orientation, while any reader of today’s headlines will discover the precursors to recent events in Ferguson, Baltimore and Texas. At one point in the novel Henriette tells her lover, “You should know who I am.” David Jauss, author of Glossolalia: New and Selected Stories, says of Kast’s character, “Reader, you should too.” Sharon Solwitz, author of Blood and Milk and the forthcoming novel, Once in Lourdes, says, “Henriette’s striving to realize herself is as magical and terrifying as Alice in Wonderland.”

In addition to readings and guest blog posts, I’m seeking discussions about whether we are forging ahead or falling back in terms of race relations. “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” said philosopher George Santayana. Recent events in Ferguson, Staten Island and Baltimore have proved this statement true. Many have forgotten (or never knew) about the infamous Scottsboro trials of 1931, in which nine young African American men, all under age twenty-one, were unfairly convicted of rape and sentenced to death. The story of this trial and the long series of trials that followed explain much about today’s world.

I ask a related question about oppression of the LGBTQ community. In the 1930s so-called Pansy Clubs proliferated, a new one springing up each time the Vice Squad shut one down. In 1923 Henry Gerber founded the Society for Human Rights to defend gay rights but a police raid soon destroyed it. A young man could be arrested for “inversion” and threatened by thugs on the street. How much has changed besides the terms we use?

Publishing my novel with Fomite Press has been and experience of dialogue and mutual respect. You can read about it in my guest blog on SolLit blog at (scroll down to “Dialogue and Respect with an Indie Press.) I’ll be chairing a panel, “Pleasures and Perqs of Indie Publishing” at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs 2016 Conference March 30-April 2. If you’ll be there, come to hear from both publishers and writers.
If you are interested in a guest blog, reading or discussion, contact me on the contact form on this site or get in touch with PJ Nunn at Breakthrough Promotions, nunn.pj33@gmail.com.

I am the author of The Crack between the Worlds: a dancer's memoir of loss, faith and family, one of Image Update's Ten Best of 2009. My first novel, A Free, Unsullied Land, was published by Fomite Press. I am a Board member of Links Hall, an incubator and presenter of dance and performance art.

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