DTH: How could the themes in your book be applied to today’s political climate?
Henderson: I think the book is much more relevant than I had feared it was when I began writing it about six years ago. I worried at that point that nobody needed or cared about a book about Jim Crow, and I think it’s been painfully clear every year that it’s become more and more relevant, so I think that often we do have to look back to the past to make sense of the current situation we’re in now.
DTH: When did you decide that you wanted to be an author?
Henderson: I grew up wanting to be an author. When I was three or four, before I had learned to complete a sentence on my own, I was dictating stories to my parents so they would write them down for me. I was always a big reader and a big writer. It was really stories of the South that I fell in love with first, probably in part with my father’s connection to the South, and when I discovered Southern short story writers as a teenager I discovered the kind of writing I wanted to do. It took me a while, and another novel set in the North, to reconnect with that initial love.
DTH: What is the daily life of being an author like?
Henderson: I’m a writer but I’m also a professor and a parent, so for me balancing those roles can be tricky. I often have to wake up early in order to get my writing in early in the day. I’m a happier person and a nicer person when I can write early in the morning. I don’t always manage to do it, but for many of the years I was working on the book, about six years, I was waking up at five in the morning with a baby, trying to write before my two kids woke up. What was really wonderful for me in writing this book in particular was that my father was up early and I could email him my research questions as I was working on this book. So for me, my writing day looks a little bit different depending on the semester, the season and the stage in my book, but it’s important to me that I can adopt a kind of ready practice that I can at least commit to for the short term.
DTH: What are some of your biggest personal inspirations in terms of writing?
Henderson: Probably my two favorite books, and ones that very much on my mind when I wrote this book, are William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!, which contains a line that I was thinking about a lot. The last famous line of that book is, “I don’t hate the South. I don’t hate it!” This was a book in which I was processing my own conflicted feelings about the South, which I love so much, but it certainly contains a history that I felt I had to recognize. Also, Edward P. Jones’s novel The Known World provided a fascinating look at a kind of under-told story about southern history. His beautiful management of time, commitment to the natural world and beautiful exploration of character — Southern character in particular — were really important to me, and so those were models to me as I was writing.