Debut novelist Kim Coleman Foote’s Coleman Hill (SJP Lit, Sept.) fictionalizes her family’s experience of the Great Migration. She calls it “a biomythography,” a term coined by the late poet and memoirist Audre Lorde to describe literature that combines biography, history, and myth into a single narrative. “I felt that that’s exactly what I was doing,” she says. “Taking all of these sources—an oral history, my genealogical research, artifacts, and family photos—and cobbling them together to build full fleshed stories around them, where this is a whole other truth.”
The book is the second to be published by SJP Lit, actor Sarah Jessica Parker’s imprint at Zando. “When I first read Coleman Hill on submission last year, I couldn’t stop turning the pages,” Parker says. “It was one of those amazing, rare experiences of quick and utter absorption in a work. Kim has a true gift for storytelling, her characters empathetic and vivid, the narrative intimate and deep.”
Coleman Foote’s extensive research yielded numerous family anecdotes, one of the more surprising of which involved a relative from the South. “She was this really bodacious woman living in Alabama, born a slave, and probably in the early 1900s, she confronted one of her neighbors, a white man,” the author explains. “His pigs had been rooting under her house and she got so mad she threw boiling water on them. He ended up putting a shotgun in her face. She apparently looked at him and said, ‘Pull the trigger.’ I thought, oh my God! This is Alabama at a time when segregation and the Klan are in full force, and when I found these folks on the census, they were the only Black family living there with white farms all around them. How did this woman do this? And she lived to tell about it!”
One of Coleman Foote’s goals in relating her stories is to help readers gain an understanding of generational trauma. “I showcased various family perspectives in an attempt to understand the roots of their behavior toward one another and the roots of their traumas, most of which revolve around my great-grandmother,” she says. “I hope the book will help readers recognize patterns that may be in their own families, because I feel there are people in my generation today who can’t see all these connections, even though they’ve experienced them themselves. When you grow up in a dysfunctional environment, you think of it as normative, so I hope people will start to recognize the signs and symptoms of trauma and be able to heal within their own families.”
Kim Coleman Foote and Sarah Jessica Parker will be in conversation with Well-Read Black Girl executive director Glory Edim on Wednesday, May 24, 12:05–12:35 p.m.