Sunday, April 21, 2024

Q&A with Heather Murphy Capps




Heather Murphy Capps is the author of the middle grade novel Indigo and Ida. It focuses on the journalist and activist Ida B. Wells. Capps is also a journalist and educator. She lives in Virginia. 


Q: What inspired you to write Indigo and Ida, and how did you create your character Indigo?


A: Indigo and Ida was born from the lyrics of one of my very favorite songs: “Galileo,” by the Indigo Girls. I had always wanted to write a book that started with those first stirring lines: “Galileo’s head was on the block … his crime was looking up the truth…”


In earlier versions of the book, those lyrics were what Indigo was spray painting on the sidewalk, but I wasn’t able to get permission to reprint them, which is why the version that published used lines from Winnie the Pooh—which is now in the public domain.


My goal was to write about the courage it takes to use your voice and speak your truth.


I also wanted to write about changing friendships and friendship loss—a sad truth that we all know happens throughout life for various reasons. Middle school is when those kinds of shifts get real, and I wanted to explore that.


Finally, I knew I wanted to write from the perspective of a biracial girl growing up in Minnesota—which is my lived experience.  I named my character Indigo after the song that starts her story.


Q: How did you research the novel, and did you learn anything that especially surprised you?


A: I read primary sources deeply – Wells’s autobiography, Crusade for Justice, as well as her Memphis diary, as much of her newspaper reporting as I could access, and her two seminal investigative pamphlets on lynching: “Red Report” and “Southern Horrors.”


My biggest surprise about her life is something I learned before I dug into my research: her experience at the Woman’s (sic) Suffrage Parade of 1913.


Wells was instrumental in publicizing and drawing participation from Black women in the parade—but when the actual day came for the women to march, Alice Paul (the primary organizer, who was white) asked Wells and the other Black women to march in the back of the parade.


I was really struck by the layers of pain I imagine Wells must have felt when she realized Paul didn’t have the courage to value their friendship or acknowledge the truth that the fight for women’s rights should have extended to ALL women.


Another notable moment in my research wasn’t so much a surprise as it was a sad confirmation of my observation that at a fundamental level, we are still wrestling with the same prejudices today that Wells faced more than a hundred years ago: racism and sexism.


Our 21st century debates express themselves in modern contexts, but the mistrust and blatant discrimination are the same; we just don’t seem to be able to move on.

Q: What do you see as Ida B. Wells’ legacy today?


A: She lit the way for Black women to be taken seriously as investigative reporters and effective social justice activists—not that it’s been easy, but she was brave enough to be among the first, and we all stand on her shoulders.


Another thing I admire about Wells is that she was truly an independent thinker and was never one to “go along to get along.” She spoke her truth even if it wasn’t what other thought leaders were saying at the time—she truly trusted her own research and her own instinct. I love that standard and example she set for all of us today.


Q: The Kirkus Review of the novel called it a “satisfying story that demonstrates how the past can shed light on the present.” What do you think of that description?


A: I was absolutely thrilled when I read that review and so grateful that Indigo’s and Ida’s story was so thoroughly understood.


Yes—Ida’s story is incredibly important not just because of her legacy of investigative reporting and social activism but also because as I mentioned earlier, the issues she was writing about in the late 19th century and early 20th century are so sadly similar to those that play out every day our world today.


We are still living in a time when Black men get accused of crimes and violence simply because they are Black. We are still living in a time when Black people are held to a different standard and are too often (incorrectly) presumed guilty, less competent, less deserving of dignity and respect.


If nothing else, I hope that the more of us that see those ties are moved to be changemakers. If we want to end the awful endless loop of the kinds of painful moments of the past, the ones Wells and others recorded for us, we must do something different. And of course, in her words, we must continue to “shine a light on the truth.”


Q: What are you working on now?


A: My sophomore novel, The Rule of Three, releases this August—I am very excited about that! The Rule of Three is also an Upper MG novel, about a baseball player named Wyatt.


Biracial Wyatt just wants to play baseball and survive middle school, but he’s battling near constant thinly veiled racial insults from the mostly white students in his school, and his best friend doesn’t have the courage to defend him.


Then he suddenly develops the ability to create smoke around him as a response to stress—a trait he shares with his father—and discovers that his newfound ability is connected to a painful family history.


At first, isolated and angry, he goes vigilante and uses his smoke to scare off bullies and protect people like him who get taunted. But eventually he realizes he and his father both need to heal.


This story of baseball, family, and friendship is special to me, and I hope others will love Wyatt as much as I do.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I love talking about reading and writing and books—and I am always open to speaking at schools, libraries, book festivals, conferences, you name it!  Feel free to visit my website:, and let’s plan a visit!


Also: if you have read my book, I invite you to leave a review on Amazon. Reviews there go a long way toward helping authors make their books visible. It doesn’t even have to be a long review – just a sentence or two. This goes for all authors—we always encourage our readers to leave those all-important reviews.


And thank you in advance, and thanks for this fun interview, Deborah! I enjoyed it, and I’m so grateful to share some time with someone who loves books.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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