Mary Glick­man is an author, a for­mer free-lance copy­writer, pub­lic rela­tions pro­fes­sion­al, and fundrais­er who has worked with many Jew­ish char­i­ties and orga­ni­za­tions. Her 2011 nov­el One More Riv­er was a final­ist for the Nation­al Jew­ish Book Award. Her most recent book, March­ing to Zion (Open Road Media), is now avail­able. She’s blog­ging here this week for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ing.

Every author has strange ques­tions thrown at them with the sub­tle­ty of a sho­far blast. Asked if my hus­band was black, I felt as if a loud, shat­ter­ing noise erupt­ed just behind me. The words echoed inside my head, crash­ing into each oth­er. I con­tem­plat­ed whether or not I’d heard right, and then with unadorned elo­quence, I respond­ed: No.” The con­ver­sa­tion was a phone inter­view, but I’m sure the questioner’s face screwed up in con­fu­sion. He pressed on. Well,” he said, dog with a bone like, do you have black peo­ple in your fam­i­ly?” I con­sid­ered my beau­ti­ful, mixed race great niece. Doesn’t every­body these days?” I asked, which seemed to put the ques­tion to rest. 

Our con­ver­sa­tion improved from there on, but its sub­text has plagued me ever since. Over the course of three nov­els, Home in the Morn­ing, One More Riv­er, and March­ing to Zion, I’ve writ­ten about the con­flu­ence of the African Amer­i­can and South­ern Jew­ish expe­ri­ences through­out the 20th cen­tu­ry. In each of my nov­els there are strong inter­ra­cial friend­ships and affairs of the heart, arguably most pow­er­ful­ly in March­ing to Zion. So the sub­text of that ques­tion, Is your hus­band black? was clear­ly: Why do you care so much about black people?”

The French have a say­ing to cov­er the phe­nom of dis­cov­er­ing the per­fect rejoin­der to an unex­pect­ed ques­tion that’s struck you dumb: Le bon mot d’escalier. Trans­la­tion: that per­fect retort that hits you after the dis­as­trous din­ner par­ty when you’re on your way down the stairs and out the door. I’ve had a few since that inter­view­er stunned me. Examples:

Is your hus­band black?”

(a) I nev­er asked.”

(b) Not this one. But I’m real­ly hop­ing the next one will be.”

© He wasn’t when I left the house.”

I was in a sit­u­a­tion where I was required to be polite – authors who aren’t Nor­man Mail­er need to keep smil­ing – or I might’ve been com­bat­ive. In the nicest pos­si­ble way. I might’ve said: Is that a pre­req­ui­site for a Jew­ish woman to care about/​write about African Amer­i­cans?” and watched where that led. Or I could have told him the truth. When I start­ed writ­ing in a South­ern meme, about race rela­tions, about the New South vs. the Old South, about Amer­i­can lib­er­ty, who gets it and who doesn’t, I was writ­ing to North­ern Jews about South­ern Jews, to res­cue the mind­set of my North­ern cousins from the cul­tur­al trap of Hol­ly­wood­think on the his­to­ry of Jews in the South, on what the South is like today, and how the races relate. To my sur­prise, I dis­cov­ered a whole crop of African Amer­i­can char­ac­ters had been sleep­ing in my brain, wait­ing for the wake-up call. I fell in love with them. So did my read­ers. My thoughts deep­ened. I rec­og­nized where the African Amer­i­can and Jew­ish expe­ri­ences meet, echo. Those points of com­mu­nal­i­ty – and dis­so­nance — became my new focus.

Read more about Mary Glick­man here.

Born on the South Shore of Boston, Mary Glick­man is the pro­lif­ic author of South­ern Jew­ish his­tor­i­cal nov­els, includ­ing Nation­al Jew­ish Book Awards Final­ist in Fiction’s One More Riv­er and An Undis­turbed Peace, list­ed by South­ern Liv­ing as a best nov­el of 2016. Ain’t No Grave is her sixth nov­el. She lives on Wad­malaw Island, SC, with her husband.