Minrose Gwin
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Promise by Minrose Gwin

 

•  An Indie Next Pick for March 2018
•  A SIBA OKRA Pick
•  A Barnes & Noble Top Book of the Month for
   February 2018

Advance Praise
Reviews of Promise: Excerpts
Press Release
The Story Behind Promise


Advance Praise for Promise

"Promise is an extraordinary novel [...] one of racial divides, good and evil, destruction and salvation and those clear moments of grace and humanity that bring hope into the most desperate times. I could not put it down." —Jill McCorkle, author of Life After Life

"Gwin's gift shines in the complexity of her characters and their fraught relationships with each other, their capacity for courage and hope, coupled with their passion for justice. [...] I couldn't put this novel down, and I don't think you'll want to either."—Jonis Agee, author of The River Wife

Tupelo Tornado
Photo courtesy Oren Dunn City Museum

"This book is a monumental achievement, and Gwin is a fiercely talented writer." —Jaimee Wriston Colbert, author of Vanishing Acts

"Lyrically precise, taut, and realistic, Promise kept me absorbed from beginning to end." —Julie Kibler, author of Calling Me Home

"Promise is a powerful story about yet another forgotten chapter in our great national drama. Minrose Gwin knows her characters well and writes about them and their place and times with sympathy and wisdom." —Steve Yarbrough, author of The Unmade World

"Minrose Gwin is equal to the challenge of leading the reader through a terrible national disaster, the tornado that struck and all but destroyed the small city of Tupelo, Mississippi. The victims, black and white, are portrayed with compassion and insight." —Elizabeth Spencer, author of Starting Over


Reviews of Promise: Excerpts

"A gripping tale of racism, power, and the bonds that make a family, Promise explores how one can rebuild after tragedy strikes." —Bridget Thoreson, Booklist

Black and white characters are equally well drawn in this atmospheric whirlwind of a book, set over the brief period from the moment the unannounced late-evening storm strikes to its horrific aftermath. Memorable, dreamlike, [a] narrative that vividly conveys what it was like to survive the fourth most deadly tornado in U.S. history, it also brings to light the vast disparity in the care and treatment of white vs. black residents. —Laurie Cavanaugh, Library Journal

"Gwin's prose is profound and Faulkner-ian in tone. Those who enjoy Southern fiction that explores both sides of the color line will want to give Gwin's latest a gander, and the novel's especially timely focus on what happens to communities in the aftermath of a natural disaster will draw many readers. [Promise] will inspire further exploration of an underexamined American tragedy." —Kirkus Review

"Promise is innately worth reading because it involves a gripping true story that emphasizes a terribly dark time in America's history, but the inspired, thoughtful and beautiful writing takes it to another level." —Becca J.G. Godwin, Atlanta Journal-Constitution

[An] impressive novel. Promise takes on the page-turning pacing of a mystery while remaining solidly literary. Gwin's writing is as precise as it is entertaining, and she creates unique rhythms for Dovey and Jo, giving each a distinct pulse. Their memories, supported by a great cast of nurses, neighbors and relatives, bring great richness to the story." —Leslie Hinson, Book Page

"[Gwin] writes of this storm with authority—she has clearly done her research—and couples her knowledge with a fine imagination to give us the devastation wrought by the tornado ... . Unless we ourselves have lived through a disaster like this one, we forget that the survivors must often struggle to find food, water, shelter, medical care, and safety. Gwin's accounts of the hunger and privation in this tornado's aftermath vividly bring home these realities. Highly recommended." —Jeff Minich, Smoky Mountain News

"A gripping novel, suspenseful novel, full of humanity at its worst and its best." —Linda Brinson, Greensboro News & Record

"This story of bravery and survival is heart wrenching and uplifting, well researched and realistic. Filled with beautiful language and a quick pace, Promise will not be easily forgotten by readers." —RT Book Reviews




William Morrow/HarperCollins Press Release on Promise

Critically acclaimed author Minrose Gwin has crafted a literary love song that hits all the right notes with her new tour de force novel, Promise (William Morrow; February 27, 2018)—a powerful story of loss, hope, despair, grit, courage, and race.

Promise is poignant and insightful, coming at a time when the American public continues to grapple with what it means to be considered a citizen in Trump's America. As Gwin remarked about the genesis of the book, "I came upon this real story when I was in the middle of another novel, but it gripped me and it angered me and it wouldn't let me go. I began to feel I had a responsibility to write this story. And I have felt it even more as time has gone on. The story of racial violence, racial injustice, is an old story; but unfortunately, and tragically, it continues to make itself new, and not just in the South but throughout the country."

Minrose GwinGwin's story is deeply personal and inspired by her childhood in Tupelo, Mississippi. It's also intertwined with historical events that catapulted the town into the national spotlight during the Depression when an F5 tornado, the fourth deadliest recorded in US history, touched down and eviscerated a swath of 48 city blocks the night of April 5, 1936. Growing up, Gwin was party to stories about the tornado from those who lived through it as they would congregate on her grandparents' porch and reminisce. But it would be years before she discovered that while the official death toll recorded ranged from 216 to 233, the deaths within the black community—one-third of the town's population—were simply not counted. With Promise, Gwin steps into the role of ally and attempts to shed light on the untold stories of that day through the fictionalized tale of two women, one black, one white, who fight for their families' survival in the tornado's aftermath while grappling with their tragic shared past.

In the novel, Dovey, a local laundress, harbors nothing but hatred for her employer, powerful judge Mort McNabb and his family. Mort allows his violent and reckless son to do as he pleases, ultimately leaving Dovey's granddaughter bruised and broken with an illegitimate child. Mort's daughter Jo is no stranger to Son McNabb's nature, but she is nothing like her brutish brother. While Dovey and Jo come from different worlds, both are thrust into chaos by the historic tornado, which appears without warning and levels the town.

As the winds whip and roar, Dovey is flung into a nearby lake by the terrifying storm. Battered and nearly drowned, she makes her way across Tupelo to find her small family. Slowly navigating the broken streets, she stops at the house of the despised McNabb family. Inside, she discovers that the tornado has spared no one, including Jo, who has suffered a terrible head wound. During the harrowing hours and days that follow, Jo and Dovey will struggle to navigate a landscape of disaster and be forced to battle both the demons and the history that link and haunt them.

With Promise, Gwin flexes her impressive narrative muscle to create her most ambitious novel to date. With her sharp examination of race relations, disaster aid relief and more, she has crafted a searing cultural commentary on today's most prescient issues focused through the lens of history. It's effortless to see recent headlines reflected in the novel: Puerto Rican hurricane relief, Black Lives Matter, Charlottesville, NFL protests during the national anthem. A breathtakingly gorgeous account of an unknown side of history, Promise is an enthralling saga that is affecting, shocking, and ultimately redemptive.




The Story Behind Promise by Minrose Gwin

Tupelo Tornado
Photo courtesy Oren Dunn City Museum

Promise is based on an actual event that occurred in 1936, the historically devastating tornado that leveled my hometown of Tupelo, in northeastern Mississippi, during the height of the Great Depression. With winds estimated at between 261-318 miles per hour, an F5, the highest level on the Fujita Scale, it leveled 48 city blocks, about half the town of around 7,000. The official death toll was 233; around 1,000 were listed as injured, many of them losing limbs. Based on these figures, it remains today the fourth most deadly tornado in the history of the United States.

Afterward, the dead and dying were strewn about the town, dangling in the sheared limbs of leafless trees, buried under debris, pinned to the bottom of a small lake called Gum Pond, laid out in make-shift morgues. Featherless chickens and hornless steers wandered the city streets. Debris littered the neighboring state of Tennessee. Growing up in my grandparents' sturdy four-square brick house, one of the few left standing on their side of town, I heard these stories and many more about what we had come to call "our tornado." I thought I knew everything there was to know, truth or lore, about the Tupelo tornado. I was wrong.

It was in 2011, when another monster tornado carved a giant hole through Tuscaloosa, Alabama, that questions emerged about the official death records of the Tupelo tornado. Those questions exposed a deeper wound in my town, the wound of race. As it turned out, the only victims counted were white people; the death and injury tolls were in reality much higher than they appeared on paper. Baldly stated, black bodies were considered so unimportant that they weren't even counted as casualties in the official records. Digging into newspaper archives in the wake of the storm, I also found listings for separate restaurants serving free food to white and 'colored' people, separate hotels, even separate "Box Car Cities," the cars made available for temporary housing by the Frisco railroad. With the notable exceptions of a photograph of a row of bodies of African Americans lying in an alley and a group of black men dredging Gum Pond for bodies, even the existing photographs of the storm's wounded and able-bodied survivors are of white people; the houses pictured in various states of wreckage were mostly inhabited by whites.

Tupelo Tornado
Photo courtesy Oren Dunn City Museum

So the cold hard fact of the matter was that what my family called "our tornado" wasn't "ours" at all, at least not in the larger, more communal sense of the term. It was the white story but not the whole story. The real story, the whole story of the tornado, is one of the deeper devastation of racial injustice, which extended even beyond the grave.

I came upon this real story when I was in the middle of another novel, but it gripped me and it angered me and it wouldn't let me go. I began to feel I had a responsibility to write this story. And I have felt it even more as time has gone on and we've been confronted with events in Ferguson and Charleston and Charlottesville. The story of racial violence, racial injustice, is an old story; but unfortunately and tragically, it continues to make itself new, and not just in the South but throughout the country. So, for me, Promise is as much about our present, and even our future, as it is about our past.