Archive for the 'Eden Rise' Category

Robert Norrell’s Eden Rise offers real picture of 1960s civil rights struggle

Thursday, February 14th, 2013 by Brian Seidman

“The way we have written and talked about the Black Belt in Alabama in 1965 has been subject to some caricature,” author Robert Norrell told WBHM’s Tapestry‘s Greg Bass, talking about Norrell’s new novel Eden Rise, “and there was an opportunity [in Eden Rise] to make a much more textured exploration of what actually happened at that time.”

Norrell is a professor and long-time civil rights scholar, winning the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award in 1986 for his book Reaping the Whirlwind: The Civil Rights Movement in Tuskegee. In Eden Rise, progressive white college student Tom McKee returns home with a couple of black friends. They’re mistaken for Freedom Riders and fired upon, but when Tom fires back, he becomes the one facing charges. Eden Rise is his first work of fiction, based in part on Norrell’s own home town of Hazel Green in Alabama’s Black Belt.

“It does not read like a first novel, however,” writes Don McKinney in a review in the Island Packet. “Norrell is not only a historian, but a gifted storyteller, and he does an excellent job of bringing a large and diverse cast of characters to life. He has been compared with both Harper Lee and John Grisham, which is pretty impressive company, and he has a keen eye for the details of the places he writes about.”

StarNews‘s Ben Steelman praises [Eden Rise] also for the female characters that Norrell creates. As Tom’s father turns away from him, “Tom finds redemption … through what might be called the feminine principle. His mother, his sister Cathy and his formidable Irish-American grandmother, Bebe, show him the angels of their better natures and point toward a possible future that’s kinder and gentler,” Steelman writes. “And while Eden Rise tells a darker, more twisted tale than To Kill a Mockingbird — courthouse veteran Joe Black Pell pulls some tricks, in Tom’s defense, to which Atticus Finch would never stoop — Tom, through the women of his family, finds grounds for hope and faith.”

The Montgomery Advertiser‘s Mollie Waters also called Bebe a “standout” character, along with Marvin, a black bodyguard from the North who’s called to protect Tom from the burgeoning supremacist unrest around his trial. The Tuscaloosa News‘s Don Noble also enjoyed Marvin, whom Noble described as “a tough customer who … carries at all times a switchblade and a pistol. He is hip, strong, cool, listens only to R&B and soul music, and often seems bemused by the rurality around him. … The fight scenes in which Marvin protects Tom are beautifully done and would be worthy of a Robert Parker, whose fans will think of Spenser’s sidekick Hawk. In fact, Marvin eventually buys a BMW.”

Noble continues that “Norrell has generated an interesting cast, male and female, black and white, through all social classes and three generations. A debut novel, Eden Rise is a genuine success.”

Read more about Eden Rise from the Island Packet, StarNews, Montgomery Advertiser, and Tuscaloosa News, and listen to Greg Bass speak with Robert Norrell from WBHM’s Tapestry.

Eden Rise is available from NewSouth Books, Amazon, or your favorite bookstore.

Knopf Editor Ashbel Green remembered by author Robert J. Norrell

Monday, September 24th, 2012 by Brian Seidman

Ashbel Green (Photo by Martha Kaplan/Knopf)Robert J. Norrell, author of Eden Rise, sent this remembrance of former Alfred A. Knopf editor Ashbel Green:

Ashbel Green accepted my dissertation for publication at Knopf six weeks after four professors at the University of Virginia in 1983 said the manuscript was worthy of the doctor of philosophy and not far from being ready for publication. Paul Gaston, my mentor, had unbounded confidence in his judgment, and that of Ashbel Green at Knopf, and he thought the two of them would merge on agreement that my little dissertation about the civil rights movement in an Alabama town should be a book.

Paul was right, at least about the consanguinity of his and Ash’s viewpoint. I had no idea at the time of how unusual this was as the fate for a dissertation. Almost thirty years later, I can say for a certainty that no subsequent book found a home so readily. Ash’s critique of my manuscript was, shall we say, lean. “Needs a new ending.” No more direction than that, and I said, all right, yes sir, and a new ending I wrote.

Over the years Ash shepherded lots of books, most bigger and more important than mine, I suspect, partly  because he had good assistants (glorified secretaries, I thought at the time) who were smart and confident guys like he was. The assistant that prompted me about photos and releases and footnotes was a young man named Randall Kenan, who within a few years was a high-profile writer himself of fiction and nonfiction.

When my book won a book prize that required my attendance at the home of Ethel Kennedy one afternoon, I asked Ash if he might come along — mainly because I wanted to meet him in person, having only communicated with him through the mail. Sure enough he came (his elderly mother lived nearby, he confessed), and he quietly observed my fifteen minutes of fame.

I always wanted to publish another book with him, and we apparently were close once much later but it didn’t happen (my agent thought it was because Ash could not get the support from his paperback imprint that he needed to make a competitive offer on the advance — such were the changes in publishing in the intervening twenty-five years). I wish that we had taken less money and gone with Ash, if only because writers are sustained by such good book men as he was.

Read more about Ashbel Green from the New York Times.

Robert J. Norrell is the author of Reaping the Whirlwind: The Civil Rights Movement in Tuskegee, which won the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award in 1986. His first work of fiction, Eden Rise, is forthcoming from NewSouth Books.