Location. Location. Location. (Oh, the song in the title is NOT from the 1920s, but the 1950s, but it’s so iconic:)! (Also, note photos were snagged from DuSable to Obama WTTW article: From Riots to Renaissance, The Black Metropolis)
The story world for WILD WOMEN AND THE BLUES begins with a journey back in time. My debut novel is historical fiction, so as you might imagine, the past (and the town) play a significant role in the story.
In this post today, I am striving to provide an introduction (in brief) to my research process (okay, some of it, we might even say, just a taste) that helped me build my vision of 1925 Chicago and the Black Belt.
My story is a dual timeline novel, and one of those timelines is the driver of the tale—the Jazz Age, the Roaring Twenties, Chicago, Al Capone, Josephine Baker, Bessie Smith. Yes, I’m name-dropping.
Other phrases and historical figures you might be familiar with include:
Louis Armstrong, Lil Hardin Armstrong, Hymie Weiss, Langston Hughes, Florence Mills, Alberta Hunter, Flapper, Hooch, Bootleg Whiskey, Wonder Bread, and Wrigley Spearmint Gum.
For my story, I explored 1925 Black Chicago as a vibrant center of the arts, music, fashion, entertainment, and community. But I also didn’t want to neglect or minimize the struggle African Americans endured in the City of Big Shoulders. The 1920s is an iconic time in early-20th Century American history that oftentimes only spotlights what I call, The Great Gatsby version of America.
To achieve the authentic atmosphere I was seeking, I researched people, places, things, and activities that dominated the lives of many Blacks in 1920s Chicago, including the Dreamland Cafe, The Stroll, Policy Gambling, Dream Books, the Plantation Cafe, and Bronzeville.
In bringing this period to life, an initial step was to research the economy of the time, how people made money.
Years ago, I had a conversation with the late author L.A. Banks. She advised me to make sure I knew how the people in my story made money. She referred to world-building for a paranormal story, but the step works for historical novels.
I also explored how Black people in Bronzeville had fun, what they wore, where they lived, what they ate, and who they knew. I examined the “pop culture,” the slang, popular books, recipes, brand name consumer products–and the music. Yes. Yes. Yes. The Jazz.
Also, let’s not forget advertising and headline news–and every period has these things (even the oldest civilizations:).
You need to know where to look.
Some of my favorite resources (secondary research) include magazines, Black newspapers, major daily newspapers (which back in the day had morning and evening additions), museums, and libraries.
Two libraries played key roles in my research for WILD WOMEN AND THE BLUES—Harold Washington Library in Chicago, and the Library of Congress. Also, the Vivian G. Harsh Collection of Afro-American History and Literature in Chicago was a goldmine.
Another critical resource is music. In fact, please check out the playlist for WILD WOMEN AND THE BLUES, which you can find on Spotify by clicking here!
Well, that’s it, a brief introduction to my story world — Chicago, 1925, and Bronzeville 2015 (oh, that’s another bit of research for another post:)!
Fashion (photos were taken at the Downton Abbey exhibition)
Denny S. Bryce
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