Publisher: Sarah Crichton Books
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Roxana Robinson is the author of ten books: six novels, three story collections, and the biography of Georgia O'Keeffe. Four of these were New York Times Notable Books.
Robinson was born in Kentucky, but grew up in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. She attended Bennington College and graduated from the University of Michigan. She worked in the art world, specializing in the field of American painting, before she began writing full-time. Her most recent novel, Sparta, won the James Webb Award for Distinguished Fiction from the USMC Heritage Foundation and was short-listed for the Dublin Impac Award. Her previous novel, Cost, was named one of the five best novels of the year by the Washington Post, and received the Fiction Award from the Maine Publishers and Writers Association. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, The New Yorker, Harper's, Tin House, Best American Short Stories, and elsewhere. She was twice a finalist for the NBCC Balakian Award for Criticism and has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. She teaches at Hunter College, is a former member of the board of PEN, and was the President of the Authors Guild from 2014-2017.
I never thought I would write about slavery: I’m from New England, and Harriet Beecher Stowe is my great-great-great aunt. The abolitionist minister Henry Ward Beecher is my great-great-grandfather. We were all abolitionists; I thought that anything I had to say about the subject would be superfluous.
But about ten years ago I started thinking about another branch of my family. On my father’s side, my great-grandparents, Frank and Sarah Dawson, were southern. Frank was an Englishman who fought for the Confederacy; Sarah was from Louisiana. After the War, they both lived in Charleston, South Carolina, where Frank helped found the News and Courier.
Despite his support for the Confederacy, Dawson differed from his brothers-in-arms in some fundamental respects: he believed in the rule of the law, he opposed violence and he often supported the rights of black freedmen.
I became curious about Dawson, who seemed to embody such opposing ideals—how could you support the Confederacy and oppose violence? As to slavery, England had banned it thirty years earlier.
Because Dawson and his wife were both prolific writers, and because the newspaper was such a rich resource, I came to learn about the place and time—Charleston during Redemption, the bloody period that followed Reconstruction. I learned that the post-War South was seething with resentment and rage. I saw that Frank Dawson, who refused to carry a gun, published report after report of shocking acts of brutality and murder, and I began to understand the way violence had become a part of the culture of the slave-owning South. I began to understand the depth and complexity of Southern resistance to the treaty at Appomattox. I also came to understand what it had been like for my southern family to suffer through a land war, which none of my northern family have ever endured.
Writing a novel means entering into the lives of your characters. My characters, as it happened, were my ancestors, and the period in which they lived was a crucial one in our history.
I had thought I was writing about my family; I came to understand that I was writing about my country. As I did the research for it, I came to understand how the baneful legacies of slavery, violence and racism are still flourishing in our culture today. The writing of Dawson’s Fall was my education in this dark part of our American story.