'The Truth Often Gives Fiction a Run for Its Money': The Root Presents: It’s Lit Talks Justice and Romance Novels With Stacey Abrams

·4 min read

Spring is in full swing and a mask-free life is on the horizon—are you feeling that new energy yet? Here at The Root Presents: It’s Lit!, we’re feeling kinda new ourselves, with a new logo that reflects this writer’s new solo status as host of The Root’s literary podcast (we’ll miss you, Danielle!). If you take a listen—as you most definitely should—you may notice that we also have a new theme song. Because who couldn’t use a little spring refresh?

This week’s illustrious guest knows a thing or two about entering a new era; after all, she helped usher in a new one for Georgia this election cycle, arguably saving what’s left of our fragile democracy in the process. But the much-beloved political powerhouse we know as Stacey Abrams embarked on something else new this season, leaving behind her longtime pen name Selena Montgomery to publish her ninth novel, a new legal thriller titled While Justice Sleeps.

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If Abrams’ double life as a novelist comes as a surprise, it’s worth considering that as the daughter of a librarian mother, she grew up surrounded by books. “It’s just always been about the access and the extraordinary opportunity to enter so many different worlds,” she explains during our chat on this week’s episode.

Followers of the politico might be aware that she’s a bestselling author of two nonfiction books in recent years, but beginning in law school, Abrams also spent nearly a decade spinning fictional worlds. During that time, she produced eight romance suspense novels as Selena Montgomery, an alter ego that was less of a secret than a strategic move by a writer who wasn’t sure anyone would want to read a romance novel written by a then-tax attorney.

“I initially wanted to write a spy novel,” she shares, later adding, “I started writing it and I had some friends in law school who’d been in publishing before they came to law school, and I told them what I was doing...they said ‘no publisher is going to buy a spy novel by or about a woman.’ There just were no women in the espionage field back in the late ‘90s. And then, one of them said: ‘And let’s just be honest, they’re not going to buy one about a Black woman.’

“And so I thought, OK, well, I know I’ve read spy novels; I know I’ve read spy novels with women in them,” she continues. “And so, I decided if I couldn’t take my work to the espionage field, I would bring it to the field I loved so much. I love romance novels. And so I killed the same number of people I planned to kill; still the exact same story—I just made my spies fall in love,” she laughs.

With While Justice Sleeps, Abrams leans less into romance (though there’s ample chemistry) and deep into her extensive legal and political knowledge, garnering acclaim from no less than bestselling political thriller writer Scott Turow on the book’s dust jacket. When asked if her real-life experiences rival the fictional narrative she created, she coyly notes, “I think the truth often gives fiction a run for its money.”

Just a day after its release on Tuesday, it was announced that While Justice Sleeps has optioned for TV by Working Title Television, meaning we’ll likely be seeing much more of Abrams’ newest heroine, Avery Keene. The 2021 Nobel Peace Prize nominee has also been nominated for a 2021 Peabody Award for her Netflix documentary, All In: The Fight for Democracy. And just yesterday, it was announced that Abrams will also be the inaugural recipient of the Harry Belafonte Voices for Social Justice Award at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.

As for Selena Montgomery, don’t count her out quite yet. Three of her early novels—Rules of Engagement, The Art of Desire, and Power of Persuasion—will be reissued by Penguin Random House next year.

Do you want more? Listen to my conversation with the ever-intriguing Stacey Abrams in Episode 34 of The Root Presents: It’s Lit!: Stacey Abrams Is the Hero We Need, Writing the Heroes She Wishes She’d Had, available on Apple, Spotify, Stitcher, iHeart Radio, Google Podcasts, Amazon, NPR One, TuneIn, and Radio Public. A transcript is also available for this week’s episode.