Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester is pleased to have the opportunity to use information from Sadeqa Johnson’s special Simon & Schuster Q&A session to bring you this Author Spotlight. Thanks to Hannah Bishop from S&S for her assistance.
A little about Sadeqa and her writing:
Sadeqa Johnson, a former public relations manager, spent several years working with well-known authors such as J.K. Rowling, Bebe Moore Campbell, Amy Tan and Bishop T.D. Jakes before becoming an author herself. She is the international best-selling author of five novels and the recipient of the National Book Club Award, the Phillis Wheatley Award and the USA Best Book Award for best fiction.
Sadeqa’s novels have received starred reviews from Kirkus and Library Journal and have been featured in top reads lists by NBC News.com, Good Housekeeping, Christian Science Monitor, Reader’s Digest, Off The Shelf, W Magazine, Country Living, Hollywood Life, Parade, She Reads, and many others. She is a passionate public speaker, writing coach and Kimbilo Fellow. She teaches for the MFA program at Drexel University and is a writing mentor for Story Summit.
Originally from Philadelphia, Sadeqa currently lives near Richmond, Virginia, with her husband and three children.
Where can people find your work? (Besides Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester–though they should totally check here first!)
You can buy them anywhere books are sold.
How can we follow your work?
I have a web page, https://sadeqajohnson.net/, and I am also available on Facebook and Instagram.
For readers unfamiliar with your work, how would you describe what you write? What can readers expect from The House of Eve?
Too often the Black women on TV look the same, act the same, sound the same. In The House of Eve, we have different colors, different classes, different backgrounds, different aspirations, etc. They are their own melting pot. I love being able to tell different versions of our stories.
What was the inspiration for The House of Eve?
After I wrote Yellow Wife, I thought about writing a young adult novel instead of another historical novel for adults. Ruby came out of an idea I had for a YA novel. She also was partly inspired by my own family history. I remembered my mother telling me that she didn’t know her mother was her mother until she was in the third grade. My grandmother was the black sheep of the family, because she had gotten pregnant at age 14 and had my mother at age 15, out of wedlock, and she birthed her in secret. My mom had lived with her grandmother until she was eight, and then she found out that my grandmother was really her mother. I started thinking: How is that situation possible, and what does that do to the child?
What kind of research went into writing The House of Eve?
I started researching how it was at that time and I came upon these homes for women. They were largely for white women: teenagers and women in their 20s who were not married. They went into these homes when they were pregnant, and were usually forced to give up their babies. But I couldn’t find a Black woman in these stories. As a Black woman, I like to write about the Black experience. We do not have just one single narrative, no matter what is shown on TV. So I kept digging, and discovered a book called Our Kind of People by Lawrence Otis Graham. The book peeled back the veil on America’s wealthy African American upper class. They were doctors and lawyers, and I traced this research into Washington, D.C., and that was the beginning of William and Eleanor’s story.
Around that time, Eleanor came to me, and she was full of rage. She was telling me that she was desperate to have a child, and desperate to fit in, and things were not working out the way she wanted them to. I figured I could solve her problem by having her adopt a baby, but adoption in the ’40s and 50s was kept quiet. It wasn’t openly discussed like it is now.
Secret pregnancy and secret adoption. That’s how the two narratives came together.
The last question is about which characters you loved or hated the most. While we don’t really have an answer to that, we do have your information on the evolution of Eleanor’s character.
I was watching Toni Morrison’s documentary, The Pieces I Am. Morrison was from Ohio, and she said, “I didn’t know that [Black] people separated themselves by color until I set foot on Howard’s campus.” She lived on a block with Germans and Italians and Poles, and everyone looked out for each other. That wasn’t my experience, but I made that a part of Eleanor’s experience. [At Howard], she gets a closer look at the way Black people separated themselves by color.
Of course, that is all leftover baggage from slavery: the light-skinned people who were the master’s children, who often worked in the house, and the darker-skinned folks often worked in the fields. The colorism and the social situations at Howard added an extra layer to this transition time for Eleanor–being away from home, being at school, being on the poorer end of the spectrum. There was the classism she faced as well.
Ruby is also one of the main characters in the book, and you explained her character a bit in this next section:
Ruby falls in love with a Jewish boy, and both she and the adults in her life understand that this love might hamper her chances at a college degree.
Ruby says in the book that she was okay with being unhappy, but she was not okay with being poor. Sometimes, for girls like Ruby, it’s a choice. How long would her happiness last if she was poor? For Ruby, I think the choices were easy. For her family members, the only jobs available were serving white people: cleaning their houses, nannying for them, chauffeuring them. The only way out was an education. And even that was sketchy–because, being poor, you couldn’t afford it. A young girl should not have to choose between falling in love and getting an education. But if she didn’t choose, this is the reality: she would be dependent on white folks. Being poor–or not being poor—is a strong motivator for a lot of decisions that people like Ruby had to make. Even now, really, that’s the case.