Author Brit Bennett's new novel has hit and stayed on The New York Times fiction best-seller list for months as of now. I have not been able to get a copy. Reading the reviews and synopsis makes me want to read it as soon as I get a chance. I applaud Bennett's bold and novel approach to the extremely thorny issue of racial identity in America. At the same time though I do wonder about the author's choice of Louisiana for the story setting. From its Wikipedia page:

The novel is a multi-generational family saga set between the 1940s to the 1990s and centers on identical twin sisters Desiree and Stella Vignes. The two light-skinned black sisters were raised in Mallard, Louisiana, and witness the lynching of their father in the 1940s. In 1954, at the age of 16, the twins run away to New Orleans. However, Stella disappears shortly thereafter. In 1968, Desiree leaves an abusive marriage in Washington, D.C. and returns to Mallard with her eight-year-old daughter, Jude. Jude grows older and moves to Los Angeles through a track scholarship at University of California, Los Angeles. While working part time at a bar in Beverly Hills, Jude sees a woman who appears to be her mother's doppelgänger. The woman is actually Stella, who has been passing as white.

The author herself was born and raised in Southern California and it makes sense she would set a lot of her stories in Los Angeles--writers write about what they know best, especially when it comes to places and cities. I haven't found any evidence that suggests she's spent any significant time in Louisiana. Why New Orleans and Mallard, LA? Of course as a deep south state Louisiana had its fair share of racial hatred and discrimination in the Jim Crow era. On the other hand New Orleans was one the first Southern cities to prosper, leading other urban areas like Houston, Dallas, Atlanta, Miami. New Orleans has been a relatively more progressive city in the South.

A review reads:

The story centers on twin sisters from a Louisiana town called Mallard, which is inhabited by Black residents who purposely intermarry so their children will be lighter-skinned. (source)

I am especially interested in the trope of "mixed race" as a weapon for non-white people to deconstruct the dominant race narrative and overturn white-normativity and categorization by color. Blurring the race line is a way to empower, and I wonder if that is the author's intention too. In what ways would New Orleans or Mallard in the backdrop be conducive to constructing a story where key issues like identity, multiraciality, and gender could be best explored?

1 Answer 1


It's set in Louisiana because the town is based on a real town as she mentions in an NPR interview:

I got the idea for the book from a conversation I had with my mother, who told me very offhandedly one day about a town she remembered from her Louisiana childhood, where everyone sort of intermarried so that their children would get lighter with each generation. I wanted to kind of explore the idea of a place like this. And I was able to draw on some research from similar Creole communities that were similarly sort of insular and organized around people having light skin. ...

It's a bit deeper than mixed race, if I recall the full interview correctly, in that Bennet was also exploring colorism—the fact that even within the Black community, lighter-skinned people are often held in higher esteem and treated better than darker skinned people.

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