Loading...
I got the surprise of my life when people were complaining about a DR editorial. You mean the BYH column is not the...

A book about black people, not white racism

In West Mills
1 of 3
De'shawn Charles Winslow
DGMartin.jpg
Loading…

Sunday, May 19, 2019

 

Elizabeth City native De’Shawn Charles Winslow’s debut novel, “In West Mills” might be the blackest novel set in North Carolina this year, maybe ever.

This book is all about African Americans living and struggling in eastern North Carolina from about 1940 to 1987. There are no major white characters and no focus on racism and Jim Crow. There is almost nothing about racial conflict or the civil rights struggle. Putting these themes aside, Winslow shows his characters dealing with universal challenges that people of all races confront as they deal with the human situation.

West Mills is a fictional small town in eastern North Carolina, somewhere between Elizabeth City, where the author grew up, and Ahoskie where the main character of the novel was born and reared.

That main character, Azalea Centre, or Knot, as she is called by everyone, has moved to West Mills from Ahoskie, where her father is a dentist and a bulwark of the local church. Knot, however, wants to get away from her family and make her own way.

She finds a teaching job in West Mills. Knot loves 19th century English literature. That sounds good for a teacher, but she also loves cheap moonshine and bedding a variety of men. One of them, Pratt Shephard, wants to marry her. But after a session of enthusiastic lovemaking, she tosses him out of her life. He signs up to fight in the looming World War II.

Soon after Pratt leaves, Knot learns she is pregnant. She does not want to end the pregnancy, but wants nothing to do with the child after its birth. To the rescue comes a dear friend, Otis Lee Loving, and his wife, Penelope or “Pep.” They find a local couple to adopt Knot’s daughter. All this is done in secret and only a few people in the community know that Frances, daughter of Phillip and Lady Waters, is really Knot’s birth child.

Shortly after she recovers from the first delivery, Knot becomes pregnant again. Otis Lee comes to the rescue once more. He finds a place for the new baby with local storeowners, Brock and Ayra Manning. They name the baby Eunice.

When they grow up, Frances and Eunice, not knowing about their common origin, come to despise each other and fight for the attention of the same man.

On this situation, Winslow builds a series of confrontations and complications that challenge the comfortable order of the West Mills community.

Meanwhile, as time passes, the community seems immune to the racial conflicts in other parts of the state. In one of the book’s few mentions of racial conflict, Otis Lee hears stories in 1960 about “the young colored people in Greensboro who had organized a sit-in a couple of months earlier” and pronounced it a terrible thing. Winslow writes, “Greensboro hadn’t come to them yet. And Otis Lee hoped things would get better so that it wouldn’t have to.”

Otis Lee is not only Knot’s loyal friend and rescuer. He becomes a major character. In a flashback to prohibition days he travels to New York City to rescue an older sister who is trying to pass for white. That effort fails, but his relationship with that woman provides a poignant thread that carries the book to one of its surprising endings.

“In West Mills” will not be released until June 4, but it is gathering early praise that indicates it could be a blockbuster. Adah Fitzgerald of Main Street Books in Davidson writes, “Winslow's characters are rich and deeply developed. His dialogue feels like part of the landscape.”

Colin Sneed of Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill says, “Winslow loves and respects and understands his characters and it comes through on every page."

I agree with them.

D.G. Martin is a retired lawyer, politician and university administrator and is host of UNC-TV’s “North Carolina Bookwatch,” at 11 a.m. Sundays and 5 p.m. on Tuesdays.

Loading…

Humans of Greenville

@HumansofGville

Local photographer Joe Pellegrino explores Greenville to create a photographic census of its people.

Look

August 25, 2019

What does a story told by a Jewish rabbi late last month at Chautauqua, N.Y., have to do with the North Carolina Board of Elections?

First a word about Chautauqua. Founded in 1874, it is the host to more than 100,000 visitors each summer. They participate in a series of lectures about religious,…

DGMartin.jpg

August 25, 2019

Badwater all starts as Goodwater.

Badwater Basin is the name of the lowest location in the United States, within Death Valley National Park. It is a saltpan valley 282 feet below sea level. If it wasn’t surrounded by mountains, it would flood Underwater.

It looks like a sea of ice in the hot…

saltflats2.jpg

August 23, 2019

TODAY

Watermelon Festival

The 34th annual Winterville Watermelon Festival continues today-Sunday in downtown Winterville. The event will include carnival rides, a parade, a watermelon-eating contest and live music and entertainment. The Watermelon Jam concert, a ticketed event, will begin at 6 p.m.…

082618watermelonfestival-6.jpg.jpg.jpg

August 21, 2019

Q I recently was diagnosed with GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) and given medication. Are there any lifestyle changes I can make that will be helpful? I hate taking medicine. — GW, Greenville

A I asked Derek Schaap, a Brody medical student to answer your question. Here is what he wants…

5cff256e6c8fd.image.jpg

August 21, 2019

When hurricanes or other natural disasters impact communities, it disrupts life in many ways. For those with chronic conditions, navigating these disruptions means preparing for the worst and having an excess of the life-saving medication they depend on.

Dr. Bryan Kitch, medical director of…

Prescriptions 2.jpg

August 18, 2019

I am quitting TV journalism. From now on, I'm getting my news from the papers. I have been thinking about it for a long time, but I finally decided when a friend of mine told me his story:

I was watching Nicole Wallace one afternoon as she preached about the imminent collapse of democracy as we…

harvey

August 16, 2019

TODAY

Jazz fundraiser

The Churches Outreach Network will present an Evening of Jazz fundraiser from 6:30-9 p.m. today at Yankee Hall Plantation, 3332 Yankee Hall Road. The event, which will celebrate 11 years of service by CON, will include a three-course meal and a live jazz ensemble. Tickets are…

DSC_4731.JPG.JPG

August 14, 2019

Q: I decided to try to use olive oil instead of vegetable oil. Standing in front of the olive oil section I couldn’t figure out what to buy. Can you help? KP, Farmville

A: You share the same dilemma with many of us. On a recent trip to Boston I went into a great market that had an entire…

5cff256e6c8fd.image.jpg

August 11, 2019

Before she graduated from high school, Ghita Harris worked as a medical research assistant in the ECU School of Medicine, an opportunity that would have seemed to have put her on the fast track to becoming a physician. But more than two decades later, her journey has just begun.

The Greenville…

5d4dabb4703dd.image.jpg

August 11, 2019

Over 50 years ago, I had a Swedish girlfriend.

It never turned into anything long-term. But the fact that I met the Swedish girl before I met the girl I ended up marrying clearly introduced several complications into both relationships. And it has produced a tale that my wife Ruthie has never tired…

5cf84491e3f83.image.jpg
124 stories in Look. Viewing 1 through 10.
«First Page   «Previous Page        
Page 1 of 13
        Next Page»   Last Page»