The Next Chapter

Jeffrey Colvin's novel Africville connects the dots between the Black experience in Canada and the U.S.

The New York-based writer spoke to The Next Chapter about a personal connection to his historical fiction book.
Africville is a novel by Jeffrey Colvin. (HarperCollins Canada, Song of Myself Photography)
Listen3:43

Jeffrey Colvin is a New York-based writer and critic. Africville is his first novel; it tells the story of three generations of a family as they drift away from their roots in Nova Scotia.

Structured as a triptych, the book begins with Kath Ella during the Great Depression, who struggles to raise her family amid suspicious stares from white-skinned neighbours. 

Colvin spoke to The Next Chapter about writing  Africville.

How history is connected

"I first learned about Africville in the early in the early 2000s. At the time, I was working on a series of short stories set in the American South in the 1960s around the time of the Selma to Montgomery march for voting rights. People are familiar with the leaders of that march — such as Martin Luther King — but I was interested in the people who lived along the march and in the rural areas. 

People are familiar with the leaders of that march — such as Martin Luther King — but I was interested in the people who lived along the march and in the rural areas.

"My grandmother actually lived in a rural Black community in Alabama. I came home from the military on leave one summer and she had moved out and all her neighbours had moved out and the last house in the town had been destroyed. I'd been hearing these stories from my grandmother and her former neighbours about their village."

Two young women walking by a house in Africville around 1965. (Bob Brooks/Nova Scotia Archives)
 

The Black experience in Nova Scotia

"In 2001, I was working on these stories and I read this article in the New York Times about Africville and I got fascinated with the stories that people would tell about their villages. These were very similar to what my grandmother told, and her neighbours.

"I began to think that there must be a connection between the stories I'm writing in the rural south, American South, and this town up in Halifax. I began to do more research. Out of that, I began to think about how that could become a fascinating novel. 

I began to think there must be a connection between the stories I'm writing in the rural south, American South, and this town up in Halifax.

"The thing that captured my imagination about the town was how the town's people, former residents, had fought to keep their town. They fought so hard to make sure it didn't get destroyed. I got swept up in the stories they told about the town that were very similar to the stories my grandmother had told."

Jeffrey Colvin's comments have been edited for length and clarity.

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