Kara Lee Corthron is the author of the new young adult novel Daughters of Jubilation. Her other work includes the YA novel The Truth of Right Now. Also a playwright and TV writer, she is based in Los Angeles.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for Daughters of Jubilation, and for your character Evvie?
A: This is a story I tell often and I’m going to repeat it here, because it’s a good one. I once saw a Gordon Parks photograph from his “Untitled, Mobile, Alabama (1956)” series.
In the photo, there’s a little Black girl in the foreground, a house with some people on the porch in the background and what appears to be a strange disturbance …coming from her head. Maybe it’s smoke, a distant twister, or a cloud of dust. Despite the mystery, there’s surely a logical explanation.
But when I saw the photo—knowing the context, that Parks was chronicling the lives of everyday Black people living under Jim Crow—my imagination wondered what life might’ve been like for this girl if she did in fact have magical powers and with just one thought, she could wreak havoc on the world. This was a pivotal moment of inspiration for me.
I started the book about a year after I saw that photo. At the time, I knew my protagonist would be a Black teen girl, but not much else. As I began writing, my heroine Evvie began talking and she would not shut up. She told me where and when her story took place. Hers was a not a voice that could be ignored (not that I wanted to).
Q: What role do you see magic playing in the book?
A: The presence of magic is the main element that distinguishes this book from other Black coming-of-age stories, particularly those that take place in this era.
Q: Did you need to do much research to write the novel, and if so, did you learn anything especially surprising?
A: Not as much as you might think. I did have to give myself a little refresher course on what was happening with the civil rights movement in the summer of ’62. But most of my research was on different kinds of Black folk magic.
While doing this work, I got really interested in Gullah culture and I learned something that both surprised and saddened me. The Gullah language—developed in coastal South Carolina as a way for slaves from different cultures to communicate before and also after learning English—has all but disappeared. A few words and phrases remain, but because it was a primarily spoken language, it wasn’t recorded for posterity.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from the story?
A: I want readers to leave the book understanding that they each have some kind of special magic. It may not be as blatant as Evvie’s, but it’s there. And whatever that magic is, if you’re using it to make someone’s life even a little bit better, you’re doing it right.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I also write for TV and right now I’m working on season 3 of the M. Night Shyamalan show Servant. I co-wrote an episode of The Flight Attendant, which is newly available on HBO Max. I’ve also just begun a new book, but I can’t say any more about it yet.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Thank you to EVERYONE who has read Daughters of Jubilation!! I can’t tell you how happy it makes me that this book is finally out in the world.
We’re in the last days of 2020—a year only future historians will be able to unpack. Most of us won’t be able to travel for the holidays (because we have to stop the spread), so be kind to yourselves. Find joy wherever you can.
Come visit me online!
--Interview with Deborah Kalb