The Black Experience 2.0: Interview with Bethany C Morrow

Hello and welcome to The Black Experience 2.0: Giving White Comfort The Backseat.

The Black Experience 2.0 is the second edition of The Black Experience which held last year in February. The Black Experience is a month long blog series held in honour of Black History Month, which features Black authors and Black bookish content creators and aims at highlighting Black stories and experiences.

TBE 2.0 is especially about giving Black people the space to be fully them and share their stories while centring themselves and their experience of Blackness and without care for the white gaze.

Today on TBE 2.0, I chat with Indie Bestselling author, Bethany C Morrow (she/her). We talk about her books, Black women, Black sisterhood and the power in the voices of Black women.

Q: Hello Bethany. Thank you so much for sparing some of your time to chat with me today. It’s such a huge honour to have you here. Before we move into the interview proper, could briefly introduce yourself and tell us a little about your books?

Bethany: Hi Zainab, thank you for having me! I’m Bethany C Morrow, author of adult and young adult fiction, from speculative literary to contemporary fantasy to historical. I’m the author of MEM, an Indies Introduce and an Indies Next pick, editor and contributor to Take The Mic: Fictional Stories of Everyday Resistance, an anthology which was the 2020 ILA Social Justice In Literature award winner, and author of A Song Below Water, an Indies bestseller. My work has been featured in the LA Times, Buzzfeed, Forbes, and more, and I’m included on USA Today’s list of 100 Black novelists and fiction writers you should read.

Q: I started this as a fun little tradition last year to bring ease into interviews, but who’s your favourite Winne the Pooh character?

Bethany: Oh, certainly Pooh.

Q: I absolutely loved your debut YA novel , A Song Below Water, last year. It was absolutely fun to read and I enjoyed the new spins on known mythology and mythical creatures and the use of Sirens is ingenious. I think one of my favourite things about A Song Below Water is the new take on known creatures, and I’d like to ask when and how you came up with these new ideas?

Bethany: The idea of Black women as sirens was a spontaneous reaction to seeing a Black woman being abused online. There’s a reason people are so vehemently and abusively indignant when a Black woman speaks, whether she’s a celebrity or not. Our voices are powerful, we shape the culture that refuses to acknowledge us. We’re impossible to omit except with an intentionality that tells on themselves, and so our refusal to do what they can’t do – silence ourselves – is met with aggression. Like many Black American authors before me, I simply used the fantastical to explain what is common but that which people refuse to see.

Q: In A Song Below Water, a very impactful scene was the protest scene. Reading it, especially with all of the events Black people around the world went through last year, was very emotional. How did you feel when you wrote that scene? 

Bethany: I’ll be honest and say that for the most part, I don’t remember writing it. I remember the first time I read it back, and I remember that I’d made a decision to sink as far into it as possible so that it wasn’t just a retelling of events of a snapshot of stimuli, but so the reader could feel it. But I don’t remember actually putting the words down.

Q: With the exception of Mem, which I haven’t quite gotten to, I noticed that a recurring theme in your books is Black sisterhood. In A Song Below Water, we have Effie and Tav’s relationships as play sisters; and the March sisters in So Many Beginnings. Is this intentional and if it is, may I ask why?

Bethany: Why, Black sisterhood? Lol. I’m interested in what we’re taught to question. Why Black sisterhood? Because Black women alone is how we’re dismantled. Black women are the strength of Black women, so I tell stories where we are together.

Q: I already mentioned So Many Beginnings, so you can I guess I have a question for you about it. I think of my favourite things is Black authors taking a new spin on classics and fairytales, I believe we have a lot to offer when it comes to reimagining known stories, so my question. Why a Little Women retelling?

Bethany: Well, I was specifically asked to do a Little Women retelling, and I immediately answered that you cannot retell the white March sisters story as Black sisters, and I wasn’t going to try. The world has ensured that race is not skin deep by building monuments to white supremacy and by creating institutions with anti-Blackness as their base, so once the March sisters are Black, the entire story is different. It pays homage to LW in places, but I made no attempt to follow the original story. I took some advice from Gwenda Bond, who writes Lois Lane fiction, and decided on which aspects of LW had to be present for the project to be identifiably LW, and I came away with Mammy, Meg, Jo (Joanna), Beth (Bethlehem), Amy (Amethyst), and Lorie. I came away with love and sisterhood and sibling tensions and traveling to new places and war, but not an aspect of it we’ve often seen in American history or imagination. I am centering American history that was excavated by Patricia Clark in her graduate work and then in her nonfiction book, Time Full of Trials, about the Roanoke Island Freedmens Colony. This is a new book with familiar loves.

Q: I can’t talk about  A Chorus Rises without taking a moment to scream about that cover and it is gorgeous. So in A Chorus Rises we see a not so liked, by readers, character as the main and central character. From the synopsis, in A Chorus Rises we get to see from Naema’s point of view, her motivations, feelings as well as her growth. So I want to ask, as the writer, how did you find shifting the reader’s perception of Naema from antagonist to protagonist? Did you find it hard or easy to relate to Naema? And what parts of her character development are you especially proud of?

Bethany: I didn’t have to shift Naema from antagonist because I never wrote her as the antagonist. It was a surprise to me to find that she’d been interpreted that way in a book where the antagonist was very obviously white supremacy. She didn’t get along with Effie and Tavia, for sure, and she did something terrible—but she could not have been the root of their problems and experiences. 

Naema is very much the easiest of the three for me to relate to, because she is a girl who loved herself before she was given permission. She’s a teenager though and she hasn’t understood the world around her as much as she assumed—which is a lesson a lot of adults still have to learn, to be honest. She’s gonna grow like we all should, but she isn’t going to change.

Q: I feel like I’ve asked too many questions, so to round up, I’d like to ask a loose question. Pitch any one of your books in seven words.

Bethany: The one you’re not ready for yet. (Cherish Farrah, 2022) 😉 

About Bethany C Morrow

Bethany C Morrow is an Indie Bestselling author who writes for adult and young adult audiences, in genres ranging from speculative literary to contemporary fantasy to historical. She is author of the novels MEM and A SONG BELOW WATER, and editor/contributor to the young adult anthology TAKE THE MIC, which was the 2020 ILA Social Justice in Literature award winner. Her work has been chosen as Indies Introduce and Indie Next picks, and featured in The LA Times, Forbes, Bustle, Buzzfeed, and more. She is included on USA TODAY’s list of 100 Black novelists and fiction writers you should read.

Twitter | Instagram | Website

And that’s it! I hope you enjoyed reading this interview as much as I enjoyed talking to Bethany. Do order/preorder her books and add them on Goodreads and Storygraph.

Till next time, with the next post.

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3 thoughts on “The Black Experience 2.0: Interview with Bethany C Morrow

  1. Amazing interview! I’ve been wanting to read her books for a really long time, so now I’m even more excited!!


  2. Enjoyed the interview. Read Mem and bookclub I’m in is reading A Song Below Water in a few months.


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