Wednesday, March 18, 2020

The Story behind the Story of In Black and White (Part 1)

MaryAnn Diorio    @DrMaryAnnDiorio

A few months ago, I published my fourth and latest novel, titled In Black and White. It is an interracial love story between a white woman and a black man, set in 1950s America and Ghana, a period of intense racial prejudice in both countries.

Interestingly, I got the idea for this story way back in the early 90s. Although I started writing the novel at that time, I didn't get very far with it because the timing wasn't right. Somehow, I knew, on a gut level, that this story would have to wait to be written. It was a case of my not being ready psychologically, professionally, and, most of all, spiritually to write this story. It was also a case of God's timing. God had a work to do in me before this story could be born. It was neither my time, nor His.

I grew up in the 1950s, the time period during which In Black and White takes place. I lived about 30 miles from Levittown, Pennsylvania, an all-white suburban community that made national headlines because of racial discrimination against a black family that had moved into the community. (An insightful, heart-wrenching documentary titled "Crisis in Levittown" was made of this incident. For those of you who are interested in viewing it, here is the link to the film:

Prejudice was in the air back then. It was common to hear unkind talk about "colored people" who moved into neighborhoods and caused property values to plummet and crime to soar. Strangely—and thankfully--those comments did not penetrate my soul, as my best childhood friend was a black girl who lived on my street.

Growing up with a close black friend taught me much about people and about life. I learned that my friend and I were very much alike. We both experienced the emotions of life in much the same way. We both worried about tests at school. We both feared the gnarly old lady who lived in the rickety house on our street. We both had great fun visiting the ice cream shop on the corner at the top of the hill. Except for our skin color, we were two normal kids trying to understand the confusing messages about "white' and "colored" that came from some grownups in the world around us.

The years transpired. I went to college, earned my bachelor's degree, and then went on to earn a graduate degree. I also married a wonderful man to whom I have been married for 50 blessed years.

Prejudice reared its ugly head again when I applied for a teaching job in a prominent school district in a major mid-western city. When I appeared for my interview with the superintendent of the school district, he took one look at me and at my name (I am an olive-skinned Italian) and gruffly said, "Go back to your own people!" No consideration of my educational credentials, my teaching experience. Nothing.

His words struck my soul like a nuclear bomb. For the first time in my life, I was speechless. Never had I experienced prejudice on a personal level. And it stung! (Read Part 2 - March 25)

I never planned to be a writer. When I was a teenager, the thought of studying journalism crossed my mind but left quickly when I walked into my first French class. The language mesmerized me, hooked me, and consumed the next 15 years of my life as I went on to earn the PhD in French. I was all set for a career as a university professor.

But God had other plans. Shortly after I celebrated my 30th birthday, I began having this unusual desire to write. It seemed to come from nowhere. No matter how hard I try, I could not shake it. Finally, I went to the Lord and asked, “Is this desire from You? If it is, increase it. But if it isn’t, take it away because it’s becoming an obsession.”
You’ve probably guessed the answer by now. The desire increased. Even then, however, I had to be sure. So I asked God to give me a sign that He was calling me to write for Him.
He did.Through a fascinating series of events–which I won’t go into here (This is the short version, remember? :)), I ended up getting a poem of mine published in The Saturday Evening Post. Now, if you know anything about the publishing industry, for an unknown like me getting published in The Saturday Evening Post is the next closest thing to winning the Olympics when you haven’t even trained!