Minrose Gwin
Home Promise, by Minrose Gwin Minrose Gwin, The Queen of Palmyra Minrose Gwin, Wishing for Snow Minrose Gwin, Remembering Medgar Evers Minrose Gwin Appearances Minrose Gwin Gallery Home Promise, by Minrose Gwin Minrose Gwin, The Queen of Palmyra Minrose Gwin, Wishing for Snow Minrose Gwin, Remembering Medgar Evers Minrose Gwin Appearances Minrose Gwin Gallery Home Promise, by Minrose Gwin Minrose Gwin, The Queen of Palmyra Minrose Gwin, Wishing for Snow Minrose Gwin, Remembering Medgar Evers Minrose Gwin Appearances Minrose Gwin Gallery



Interviews for The Queen of Palmyra a novel by Minrose Gwin


Minrose Gwin on WUNC's The State of Things
Minrose Gwin grew up in a segregated Mississippi town much like the one she wrote about in her debut novel "The Queen of Palmyra" (Harper Collins/2010) and like the book's protagonist, she was disturbed by the willful ignorance of white people in her community who blinded themselves to the problems of racism and violence. Gwin, Kenan Eminent Professor of English at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, now makes her home in North Carolina where she continues to reveal the unspoken truths of Southern culture in her writing. She joins guest host Isaac-Davy Aronson to talk about being a Southern author and how family, tragedy, race and gender factor into her work. Listen Now...

The Queen of Palmyra89.9 WWNO NPR New Orleans interview
NEW ORLEANS (WWNO) - Today - on "The Sound of Books" - with Fred Kasten - the new novel by writer and educator Minrose Gwin - "The Queen of Palmyra"... Originally aired on 5/19/2011. Listen Now..

Her Circle ezine interview
...not only does Minrose Gwin manage to cover an angle on the race struggles which remains relevant even today, but she does so in a beautiful narrative built on phrases sharp as stings. This is a book to remind us that language is still a viable denomination of worship. Read complete interview...

Southern Authors interview
What's the backstory behind THE QUEEN OF PALMYRA?

The original title for the novel was "What I Didn't See," and my impetus for writing it was to explore how certain forms of blindness or not-knowing can occur when the stories people may have in their heads don't line up with what's right in front of them. Read complete interview...

A Conversation with Minrose Gwin
THE QUEEN OF PALMYRA is fiction but is based in the 1960s South. Did you personally live any of this history when you grew up in Mississippi?

Minrose GwinI lived the white side of this history and observed the black side. My babysitter, Eva Lee Miller, to whom the book is dedicated, was African American, and I'd be dropped off at her house on the black side of town and spend hours there "helping" her sew and cook and clean, though I doubt I was of much help. Like Zenie Johnson, she was a witty, brilliant woman who fended off the burial insurance man with queenly aplomb. She had a wicked sense of humor where white people were concerned, and she let me know from the get-go that she didn't trust any of us. She and her husband, Hiram Miller, worked several different jobs to make ends meet. I visited her in her home until she died, and we wrote letters back and forth when I went off to college. Over the years, I became deeply attached to her and admired her enormously. She worked hard and she never gave up; she was a model for me. In my own family, my mother was rather progressive for the times, though not openly so, and my stepfather treated African Americans respectfully. But from an early age, I had the feeling that something was very wrong. I think of my generation of southerners as the bridge between the Jim Crow days of this novel and the present, when things are far from perfect, but greatly improved. Would Medgar Evers or my character Eva Greene or anyone fighting for the right to vote in the early sixties have expected the election of a black president by 2008? Even Myrlie Evers-Williams, Medgar Evers's widow, has said she didn't think it would happen this soon.

Like your characters Eva Greene and Florence Forrest, you're a teacher. Do you see teaching as a major element of your novel?

Teachers can change lives and open spaces in the world where there were none, in large ways and small. Eva Greene does this for Florence; she arms her with "the sentence" so that she can make it through the fifth grade and move on with her life. Eva teaches Zenie's husband Ray Johnson and other African Americans how to wedge open the white-controlled world by using language as a lever. In her turn, Florence teaches semicolons and diagramming to her inner-city students in New Orleans to help them map out an incoherent world. That's why Florence takes that sharp left turn back into her story—it's the act of teaching that calls her back, it's Eva who calls her back.

What does THE QUEEN OF PALMYRA say about the scales of justice?

That they're very wobbly at best and heavily weighted toward the powerful. Several white women, men, and children who witnessed horrendous crimes during the civil rights years have come forward in the past couple of decades to testify about these crimes. In most cases, these belated witnesses felt enormously threatened during the sixties when these acts of violence were committed and so just recently have felt they could speak. Some of them had actually forgotten the events and then remembered them in adulthood. Many of the perpetrators of these crimes were old and sometimes on the brink of death when their cases were re-opened, so the question of justice, of how one can close one's eyes when fear is involved, of how people turn away from the most terrible things and the dire necessity that prods them to do so—all of these tragic stories drove me to create Florence Forrest. One thing Florence has to face in her adulthood is that her silence, her blindness, has precluded any chance at justice for Eva's murder. This seems to have been an unconscious choice—we're never quite sure--but it's a choice and, as the years pass, it can't be undone.

What would have happened if Florence had spoken up that summer?

If you look at the historical evidence, Win Forrest, her father, probably would have been acquitted. Southern juries back then were all white and all male; white murderers of African Americans got a free ride. Examples from that period abound. The murderers of Emmett Till went free. The trial of Byron de la Beckwith, who killed NAACP Field Secretary Medgar Evers, twice resulted in a hung jury; finally, in 1994, Beckwith was convicted, but by then he was an old man and had lived out most of his natural life. The two hung juries in the Beckwith case were considered a victory by the prosecution back in the sixties.

Did you have to do extensive research for the novel?

My research into the civil rights movement in central Mississippi in the early sixties has been pretty thorough because I'm also working on a book about Evers. His death took place in Jackson, Mississippi the summer of 1963, the summer of the novel. His murder and what it meant to black Mississippians figure in Florence's and Eva's side-by-side stories.

You're a scholar of southern literature as well as a writer. What makes southern literature southern?

There's a sense of location that's peculiar to southern literature—it can manifest in a character's voice, maybe a particular inflection, a resonance; in a groundedness in place or a sense of loss of home; in a painful awareness of what's been called "the burden of southern history," the long shadow of slavery and Jim Crow and their present-day ramifications.

So, do you see yourself as a Southern writer consumed with your own cultural past?

I'm interested in the idea of being consumed by the past, how the ghosts of the past continue to haunt us despite our best efforts to erase them on the blackboards of our minds. For me as a writer, the southern past is a teacher. It helps me understand the human willingness to avert the eyes from what we don't want to see, or deafen the ears to stories we don't want to hear. It's a human failing—this ability to blind ourselves to the terrible things that don't directly affect us. This is how the Holocaust happened—and it's something I think we need to question constantly in ourselves. Eva Greenewill always haunt Florence. Florence will always walk that levee and think about her.