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News & Features » May 2016 » Behind the Scenes of The Book of Harlan by Bernice L. McFadden

Behind the Scenes of The Book of Harlan by Bernice L. McFadden

Did you know that The Book of Harlan — the latest novel by acclaimed author Bernice L. McFadden — is partly inspired by McFadden’s own family history? The photo on the cover of the novel is McFadden’s paternal grandfather, Harold Isaac McFadden, a guitarist who served as the primary inspiration for the character of Harlan (though the events of Harold’s life do not — to McFadden’s knowledge — directly correspond with those of Harlan’s life). Today we’re very pleased to share with you a behind-the-scenes look at McFadden’s latest novel, featuring newspaper clippings and photos she came across while conducting research as well as a short statement from the author on writing the book.

Harold McFadden/Harlan Elliott

Harold McFadden/Harlan Elliott

 

In 2004 I read Firpo W. Carr’s book Germany’s Black Holocaust: 1890–1945, and was immediately intrigued. According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, “The fate of black people from 1933 to 1945 in Nazi Germany and in  German-occupied territories ranged from isolation to persecution, sterilization, medical experimentation, incarceration, brutality, and murder.”

I realized that while much had been written about the Jewish victims, the fate of Africans and African Americans at the hands of the Nazis was less well documented.

I was fascinated by this discovery and set about writing a story that would illuminate this hidden verity. But for many years, the story seemed out of my reach as I struggled to find a connection with the characters.

Luckily for me, early attempts at creating the story coincided with my ongoing personal genealogy research. For some twenty years I’ve been consumed with investigating my paternal line; specifically my grandfather, Harold McFadden, who was entirely absent from my father’s life, thus a mystery to both of us.

When I decided to model Harlan Elliott after my grandfather, all that I had been struggling with came to an end. It was as if I had found the golden key; suddenly the foreign became familiar and the novel unfurled as naturally as a flower in spring.

(click photos to enlarge)

McFadden's grandparents Gwendolyn Gill and Harold McFadden (aka Harlan Elliott)

McFadden’s grandparents Gwendolyn Gill and Harold McFadden (aka Harlan Elliott)

 

McFadden's great-grandfather, the Rev. T.M. Robinson

McFadden’s great-grandfather, the Rev. T.M. Robinson

 

Bernice McFadden at First Baptist Church, touching the cornerstone that bears her great-grandfather's name

Bernice McFadden at First Baptist Church in Macon, GA, touching the cornerstone that bears her great-grandfather’s name

 

Macon Telegraph

Obituary for McFadden’s great-grandfather

 

McFadden's grandmother Gwendolyn Gill at the 1940 World's Fair

McFadden’s grandmother Gwendolyn Gill at the 1940 World’s Fair

 

From Page 1 of the Trenton Even Times, Tuesday, September 4, 1951

From Page 1 of the Trenton Evening Times, Tuesday, September 4, 1951

***

Bernice L. McFadden

BERNICE L. McFADDEN is the author of nine critically acclaimed novels including SugarLoving Donovan, Nowhere Is a Place, The Warmest December, Gathering of Waters (a New York Times Editors’ Choice and one of the 100 Notable Books of 2012), and Glorious, which was featured in O, The Oprah Magazine and was a finalist for the NAACP Image Award. She is a three-time Hurston/Wright Legacy Award finalist, as well as the recipient of three awards from the BCALA. McFadden lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Posted: May 18, 2016

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