I can point to many sources of inspiration for my novel, The Talking Drum, but one of the major sources of inspiration was an incident that occurred about 10 years ago at my church, Myrtle Baptist, in West Newton, Massachusetts, during a meeting of the history committee.
We were making plans to create a commemorative book on the history of the church in celebration of its 135 years in existence. Myrtle Baptist, now on the National Register of Historic Places, and one of the oldest historically African American churches in New England, was founded by freed slaves in 1874.
During the history committee meeting we talked about doing a write-up in the commemorative book about “The Village,” the African American neighborhood that included the church. Older committee members started reminiscing about how in 1963, about half of that neighborhood was destroyed with the construction of the Massachusetts Turnpike extension. African American families that had been part of The Village for generations had to leave. Because of discrimination, it was impossible for many of them to get other housing in the area or elsewhere in Newton.
During the meeting, some members of the committee broke down and cried as they thought about all that they had lost back then, the sense of community, the friendships, the relationships, because a development project was forced on them.
I wanted to capture that in The Talking Drum. I wanted to capture the emotional toll uprooting people takes. I wanted to capture the energy that residents put into protesting, fighting the system, becoming activists for a cause that is dear to them, the measures they take to fight a system to try to maintain their quality of life. I also wanted to give perspective on why urban redevelopment happens and in what ways it can be beneficial.
It is within the voices of my characters, Malachi, Sydney, Della, Kwamé, Omar, and Mustapha, that I have tried to bring the story of my fellow church members and the larger story of urban redevelopment to life.
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