Inspiration

I grew up in Texas during the tumult of the civil rights movement. One of the books that had an impact on me was written by another Texan who literally changed the color of his skin in an attempt to get inside the experience of being black in the South during the time when racial covenants dictated where a person could get a drink of water or sit on the bus or go to the bathroom. John Howard Griffin’s Black Like Me came out when I was in junior high school. I don’t remember if I read it then, or a few years later, but when I read it, the dilemma it posed both shaped and mirrored feelings and questions that were growing in me.

For a time I considered those questions simply as political questions. I spent much of my teens debating issues of civil rights (and the role of women) with family and friends. I located the antagonist outside myself, as some monolith which for lack of a better description had a handle at the top, a wing on the west and several large rivers running through it. And so I left the state of Texas.

As long as the antagonist was outside in politics, society, culture, I could separate myself from it. As a journalist in the East, I gathered facts and statistics and social opinions and searched for answers to issues, writing articles and series on segregation, desegregation, integration and what Boston called: racial balance.

All the while, however, other stories were building in me that I wanted to write, stories that couldn’t be so easily contained in facts and figures and social theories. I wouldn’t call these stories a novel because I didn’t know how they would end, but I knew the face of the emotion I wanted to address, the face of a character or two, and I knew two sentences. The first was, “The girl did not belong.” The second: “There are no marble angels in potter’s field.”

The stories in No Marble Angels were written over more than a decade. Several are drawn from longer works of fiction. The links among some of the stories arose from the start, but as I laid all the stories side by side I discovered other connections. More than half of the stories are set in the South during the time when blacks and whites peered at each other over the barriers of history and the laws that separated them.

This schism remains one of our national dramas, a drama that calls attention to the distance between individuals. It is this distance and the closing of the distance that has interested me over the years, whether it arises from race or sex or age, whether it arises in the U.S. or abroad or simply from the self looking into the mirror and seeing an image other than its own.