The history of Black people in America is broad, layered and nuanced—layers which M Shelly Conner tackles in her debut novel, Everyman: A Novel, out July 20. The Chicago native turned Arkansas educator spent 16 years developing her first book, which takes readers on a similar arc from the urban enclave back to Ideal, Georgia, as a young woman seeks the truth about her own lineage.
“I was concerned with the stories that we don’t pass down,” Conner shares on this week’s episode of The Root Presents: It’s Lit!. “The ones that we refuse, you know—so the names that are kind of scratched out and erased from the family Bibles..and I wondered what those stories would be,” she added.
A synopsis of the book:
Eve Mann arrives in Ideal, Georgia, in 1972, looking for answers about the mother who died giving her life. A mother named Mercy. A mother who for all of Eve’s twenty-two years has been a mystery and a quest. Eve’s search for her mother, and the father she never knew, is a mission to discover her identity, her name, her people, her home.
Eve’s questions and longing launch a multigenerational story that sprawls back to the turn of the twentieth century, settles into the soil of the South, the blood and souls of Black folk making love and life, and fleeing into a Great Migration into the savage embrace of the North. Eve is a young woman coming of age in Chicago against the backdrop of the twin fires and fury of the civil rights and Black Power movements. A time when everything—and everyone, it seems—longs to be made anew.
The story itself not only traverses generations, but romantic attractions, as many of Conner’s characters find themselves attempting to navigate relationships their eras refused to accommodate.
“It always stuck in me that one of the first things older people say when you tell them you’re queer is, you know, ‘Is it just a phase? Maybe you’re just going through a phase.’ And I’m like, oh, they’re holding this in the chamber...What are the stories of these people who are going through this as a phase, or it’s interpreted as a phase because they couldn’t live that life and had to pivot from it? So now, there are all these stories—queer stories—where now people just say, ‘Oh, it was a phase’—again, kind of erasing this narrative or rewriting this narrative. And I’m like, what are those stories? And what if it wasn’t a phase? What if it was just kind of too hard or too difficult?”
Hear more from the irrepressible M Shelly Conner in Episode 43 of The Root Presents: It’s Lit!: Speaking to Everyman, With M Shelly Conner, available on Apple, Spotify, Stitcher, iHeart Radio, Google Podcasts, Amazon, TuneIn, and Radio Public.