Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Karla Holloway

Karla FC Holloway is James B. Duke Emerita Professor of English, African-American Studies, and Professor of Law at Duke University. As a professor, her classrooms and scholarship focused on literature, law, and bioethics; but in 2017 she turned her full attention to writing fiction. Her debut literary fiction is A Death in Harlem, a mystery set in the moment of the Harlem Renaissance.

Holloway's new book, Gone Missing in Harlem, is a novel about memory, mothering and resilience that bridges the Harlem Renaissance and the Great Depression. Weldon Thomas, NYC's first colored policeman, returns to solve the mystery of a Harlem baby whose disappearance fails to engage the same energies and interest as the contemporaneous Lindbergh kidnapping.

My Q&A with the author:
How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

I’m a title person. I had a review once that was totally correct but that still embarrasses me. It was my first book and the reviewer wrote that my title was better than the book (The Character of the Word). Ouch! So I was quite conscious in coming to a space where the two at least matched in quality. For a while (for my non fiction writing) I was taken by alliteration (Moorings and Metaphors, Codes of Conduct) – possibly why some say (not incorrectly) that I write for sound before I invest in sense. I do pay close attention to the sounds, rhythms, and tones of language. But fiction was a decided shift for me, and these titles (A Death in Harlem and Gone Missing in Harlem) became about the place that sustains the story – thus, my “in Harlem” repetition. Knowing the place (and era) was a gift because the “who, what, when, and how” remain open to each novel and the story has to find its way to and then blossom in this space. I love that freedom, and it’s an assurance for the reader that ‘Yes, it is indeed one of those books,’ and, at the same time, it gives me permission to wander into the intricacies of wherever the place takes me. (Currently, I’m intrigued by a ‘what?’ – “A Haunting in Harlem”).

What's in a name?

I love choosing “old-school” names for my characters, and since I’m pretty old-school myself, many come from my own friends and family. However, the newest novel has a loving but struggling mother named DeLilah, whose name I chose because the sound of it seemed to fit her (plus I could shorten it to “Lilah”). I totally forgot the Biblical reference and given my character’s character, I’m hoping readers won’t notice, (although, I suspect they will). I almost wish now I’d written a disclaimer: “there is no association between this character and her Biblical counterpart.” Then again, it might become a discussion point and maybe I’ve misread my character!

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your novel?

She’d be shocked, not easily convinced it was me doing it, and insist on reading it before she claimed it. I was a discerning and cautious teenager – eager to be a “credit to the race.” I think she’d take to leaving these books in unsuspecting spots and sticking around to watch readers’ responses.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

Totally, the Turner Classic Movie station and any film between 1920 and 1944. Were there automobiles? Automobiles + horse and carriages contemporaneously? How did the fabric move on women’s bodies? What was on their dresser tables? What’s in the backgrounds? I’m devoted to details of a scene and if you look past the foregrounded action to the background of a scene on TCM, it gives you a sense of place like none other.
Visit Karla FC Holloway's website.

Q&A with Karla FC Holloway.

--Marshal Zeringue