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What book titles would be on a library shelf in ? What were the emancipation laws in South Carolina? I would easily spend an entire day tinkering with the prose on a single page. The way into the early nineteenth century, of course, is through an awful lot of research. My husband joked I spent more time in the nineteenth century than I did in the twenty-first. My aim was to create a world for the reader to enter, one as richly textured, tangible, and authentic as I could make it.

I read and read, filling up five big notebooks with details and ideas. I hung them in my study, using them to map the flow of events. I also made lots of field trips, visiting libraries, museums, historical societies, and historic houses, all of which I might have enjoyed a little too much because I finally had to make myself stop reading, mapping, and traipsing about and start writing. Maybe because the story had to accommodate such a sweeping amount of time.

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Maybe because it had two different narrators whose stories needed to be a match for one another, whose voices had to be distinct, and whose journeys had to be synchronized. Most daunting, though, was the notion of writing from the mind, heart, and persona of an enslaved person. I wanted to create Handful in a way that was convincing and respectful. One that I kept on my desk as I wrote this novel simply said: Be fearless on the page. I often paused to read it. It caused me to at least try.

What does that moment in the novel mean to you?

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As I read through this long and detailed list, I was shocked to come upon the names of seventeen slaves. They were inserted between a Brussels staircase carpet and eleven yards of cotton and flax. I read their names, their ages, the roles they performed-coachman, cook, waiting maid, washer, house servant, seamstress, etc. There were four children included, ages eight, six, four, and three months. The eight-year-old was named Ben, the same as my grandson. Their mother was Bess, age thirty.

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The moment hit me close to the bone, in part because of how real and close these human beings suddenly seemed, but also because of the sheer banality and acceptability of listing them as possessions among the carpets and cloth. Here was not just our human capacity for cruelty, but also our ability to render it invisible. How do such things happen? How do we grow comfortable with the particulars of evil?

Faith: Belief with Wings and Other Essays for Awakening by Andras Nagy (Hardcover) - Lulu

How are we able to normalize it? How does evil gather when no one is looking? The Invention of Wings is about several simultaneous struggles for freedom. Handful and Sarah are both imprisoned in their own particular way. As a white woman in South Carolina in the early s, even a privileged one, Sarah had a life that was vastly limited. Women had few rights, not to property or even to their own children.

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Essentially, they were the property of their husbands, and their purpose in life was to marry, have children, and live their lives within the domestic sphere. And yet their lack of freedom could not compare to the horrific subjugation of enslaved women whose entire lives were determined by their owners and whose suffering was infinitely worse.

I felt like the primary thing I had to do was never lose sight of that. Finding their freedom had to do with liberating themselves internally, discovering a sense of self, and the boldness to express that self. The question then became how to emancipate herself physically. What needed to transpire inside of her to bring her to the crucial moment of risking everything? Sarah was steeped in family and cultural expectations for women, which crashed over and over against her ravenous intellect and hunger for an education, her passion for a vocation, her indomitable moral compass, and her courage-qualities that came to be reflected in her silver fleur-de -is button, an object she would lose and refind, figuratively, many times.

Turning loose of the sea rope, to which all the women grasp, she strides off on her own into the waves. Floating alone in the water, far from the tether, became her own baptism into her apartness and independence.

It was a small beginning. Later, she would have another moment when the inner voice showed up, telling her to go north. Sarah shared a close friendship with Lucretia Mott. What motivated you to include this relationship in the story? It was a surprise for me when Lucretia Mott turned up as a character.

It was a relief to me when she turned up. It is cozy, full of books, journals, art palettes, and velvet squares pinned with luna moths, which Lucretia finds lifeless in the garden, and it looks out over a copse of trees. It was in the studio that Sarah poured out her story to Lucretia and had it truly received. Of course you could. It said, simply: Press on, my sisters. Honestly, I think it was I who wanted to say those words to Sarah and Angelina every bit as much as Lucretia did. In the novel, their relationship spans three and a half decades, much of which they spend as constant companions.

She loved me and pitied me. And I loved her and used her. It never was a simple thing. Their relationship is disfigured by so many things: guilt, shame, pity, resentment, defiance, estrangement. I tried to create a relationship between them that allows for all of that yet also has room for surprise, redemption, and even love. Someone who read an early copy of the novel commented that the two women create a sisterhood against all odds. I think they do-an uneasy, but saving sisterhood. What drew you to include it in the story? What meaning did you want it to carry? I was inspired by the quilts of Harriet Powers, who was born into slavery in in Georgia.

Each of the squares on her two surviving quilts is a masterpiece of art and narration. The quilt in the novel is meant to be more than a warm blanket or a nice piece of handiwork. I wanted it to suggest how important it is to take the broken, painful, and discarded fragments of our lives and piece them into something whole. How, if at all, does religion influence Handful?

During her Presbyterian and Quaker years, her devoutness seemed, at times, to border on asceticism. Both Sarahs, though, the one in history and the one in my story, carry on an intricate relationship with church and faith that was as conflicted as it was compatible. In the novel, it begins as twelve-year-old Sarah sits in church listening to the minister defend slavery.