father& son

Character Flaw

After my father died, I was terrified of one day being left an orphan. I’m sure that fear influenced my depiction of Charlie Mears, the narrator of Forsaken. For the past few winter terms at Elon University I taught a course boldly entitled, “Write an American Best Seller.” I would tell students the name was […]


The Secret We Share

My dog Sam and I have lapsed into the familiar. These days I seem to frequent only restaurants I know, ordering the same menu items time after time. For his part Sam, whenever he senses I’m about to vary from a customary walking route, stubbornly plants four paws until I turn the way his snout […]

Walter Plecker

Bureau of Vital Statistics

The work of Dr. Walter Plecker’s Bureau of Vital Statistics would culminate in Virginia’s 1924 Racial Integrity Act, which remained on the books until it was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1967. Plecker is depicted in the novel, Forsaken. Born into a slave-owning family in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia just days before […]

Mug Shot_Virginia Christian_6_3_1912

A Day for Reflection

This morning, at the time of day Virginia Christian was pronounced dead and unstrapped from the electric chair at the state penitentiary in Richmond, Virginia, on August 16, 1912, I began working on this essay. Virgie was seventeen years old, an African American girl taken out of a Negro school at the age of thirteen because her […]

Martha Green

Reader’s Profile: Martha Green

(Large photo) Martha Green, photographed in Chicago, Ill., by Stephan Chodorov. (Small photo) George Washington Fields, lead defense attorney for Virginia Christian, at the time of his graduation from Cornell Law School. Fields was a very successful attorney, even though he lost his eyesight more than a decade before he represented Virgie. Martha Green recently […]

Elizabeth City County Courthouse, 1913. (Courtesy of the Hampton History Museum, Hampton, Va. Cheyne Collection 2009.15.1998)

Dangerous Situation

(Large photo) Elizabeth City County Courthouse, Hampton, Virginia, where Virginia Christian was tried for murder in 1912. (Small photo) Inez C. Fields, the daughter of George Washington Fields, lead defense attorney in the Virginia Christian trial. (Massachusetts Historical Society) Was it a good idea for the father [Henry Christian] to testify that he did not know the […]


A Reader’s Question

(Large photo) Courthouse in Hillsville, Virginia, where five people died in a March 1912 shooting in the Blue Ridge Mountains. (Small photo) Virginia Christian, who was charged in March 1912 with murder in Hampton, Virginia, and was not allowed to testify in her own defense. Recently a reader from Brooklyn, New York, sent me a […]

Mom, Shirley, Ross

Simply Ordinary People

(Large photo) Margaret “Mom” Rumley (right), her daughter Shirley Broome, and author at the Greensboro Farmers Curb Market, Greensboro, North Carolina. (Small photo) Lady Orchid peonies. In fall 1970 I leaned forward at my desk, listening to University of Virginia creative writing professor John Coleman read the opening lines of the title story of Sherwood […]

Kay Carlson, daughter, husband

Universal Education, by Kay Carlson

Guest blogger Kay Carlson’s maternal great uncle, Thomas Allen Houston, was a student at Transylvania University when he won the Southern Inter-State Oratorical Association Contest in 1908. (large photo) Kay with daughter Kendra and husband Lawrence. Retired from teaching, Kay’s pursuing her favorite roles of wife and mom, though ever the student, she’s now studying […]


Immigrants, Jews, Negroes

In August 1912 Virginia Christian died in the electric chair at the penitentiary in Richmond, Virginia. When I talk about Forsaken, I tell readers this the point in the novel where it also becomes Charlie Mears’ story, because here is where his actions lead Jim Crow to single him out for retribution. In an earlier […]