Friday, April 19, 2024

Q&A with Lora Chilton




Lora Chilton is the author of the new novel 1666. She is a member of the Patawomeck Indian Tribe of Virginia.


Q: What inspired you to write 1666?


A: In 2007, Chief Two Eagles Green attended our Chilton family reunion and shared the oral tradition of our tribe, telling us about the Patawomeck women who were sold into slavery and shipped to Barbados after the men were killed and the village burned in the summer of 1666.


From that point forward, I longed to know more about this story and the women who survived and made their way back to their homeland, the place that is now called Virginia. I read everything I could but their full story was not anywhere to be found.


Toni Morrison said, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” So I began to think about the women and imagine what this journey might have been like based on the oral tradition I knew and written historical records I found while researching.


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


A: I researched online in addition to reading many books. During Covid, JSTOR, a digital library, removed their usual paywall so individuals could comb through their vast range of content. This allowed me to access articles and books I otherwise might not have discovered.


Also, as a response to the restrictions of Covid, my tribe, the Patawomeck, began to offer online language classes. I asked permission to join the children’s classes so I could learn the language with my granddaughters! Some of the language had been saved in early written records but much had been lost.


In recent years, dedicated members of the tribe have worked diligently to recover the words, pronunciations, and meanings. I am indebted to those individuals and attempted to honor their work by using some of the lost language in 1666: A Novel


There was a brief opening during Covid and a friend and I went to Barbados to research. I felt I needed to experience the air, the sand, the shoreline. I wanted to walk in the sugar cane fields and see what was left of the sugar mills of history.


One thing that totally surprised me was to learn of the decadence and sophistication of “Little England” that was the flourishing island of Barbados in 1666 and beyond.


There was a thriving Jewish community with a synagogue, including a mikvah in 1666! There was a vibrant Quaker community, arriving in Barbados to escape persecution in England.


The money from the production of sugar and then rum created an opulent existence for the planter class but early death for the slaves that worked in the fields.


Q: What did you see as the right balance between fiction and history as you wrote this book?


A: There were natural limitations because early explorers were not focusing on the women they encountered. Most of their observations were about the men, so the lives of the women, their daily activities, were pieced together from many sources and then I imagined their conversations.


The written history provided the broad strokes, as did the oral tradition passed down within the tribe.


Q: What do you hope readers take away from the novel?


A: I hope readers will be inspired by the resilience of the Patawomeck women who were determined to return to their homeland. I hope readers will marvel at a story they did not know, about a smaller Indigenous tribe that is still in existence today, in spite of repeated efforts to annihilate them.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I am working on a sequel to 1666: A Novel, tentatively titled The Opposite of Integrity, about the Racial Integrity Act of 1924 in Virginia.


It is historical fiction, exploring the impact of the “paper genocide” that eliminated the Indian populations in Virginia in 1924 by mandating that birth certificates and marriage certificates identify race as either “white” or “colored,” eliminating the “Indian” category.


This law was not overturned until 1967! It essentially caused the Indigenous people in Virginia to hide their heritage, customs, and deny their ancestors.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Thank you for your interest in 1666: A Novel.


As a part of the book promotion and tour, I will be retracing the imagined path of the women from the Patawomeck Tribal Center in Fredericksburg, Virginia, south through Richmond, then Williamsburg and ending in Hampton, Virginia, where the first slave ships landed in North America in 1619.


There are other events planned in Tennessee and northern Virginia.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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