Sharon Ewell Foster – a former Defense Department instructor, writer, researcher, analyst, and logistician, is the only African American to win the Christy Award, in addition to earning place on the Essence and other bestsellers lists. Her first novel, Passing by Samaria, was the NAACP Book of the Year in 2000. The North Carolina author has earned acclaim from Booklist, Ebony Magazine, Christianity Today, Romantic Times Magazine, and the Historical Novel Society. She is a speaker and author of seven previous books that have earned her a loyal following that crosses market, gender, and racial boundaries. Foster has been a contributor to Daily Guideposts for over 10 years.
To learn more about Sharon and The Resurrection of Nat Turner, check out her website and the official site for The Resurrection of Nat Turner. You can also follow Sharon on Twitter and Facebook, and LIKE the Facebook page for The Resurrection of Nat Turner!
The truth has been buried more than one hundred years . . .
Leading a small army of slaves, Nat Turner was a man born with a mission: to set the captives free. When words failed, he ignited an uprising that left over fifty whites dead. In the predawn hours of August 22, 1831, Nat Turner stormed into history with a Bible in one hand, brandishing a sword in the other. His rebellion shined a national spotlight on slavery and the state of Virginia and divided a nation’s trust. Turner himself became a lightning rod for abolitionists like Harriet Beecher Stowe and a terror and secret shame for slave owners.
In The Resurrection of Nat Turner, Part 1: The Witnesses, Nat Turner’s story is revealed through the eyes and minds of slaves and masters, friends and foes. In their words is the truth of the mystery and conspiracy of Nat Turner’s life, death, and confession.
The Resurrection of Nat Turner spans more than sixty years, sweeping from the majestic highlands of Ethiopia to the towns of Cross Keys and Jerusalem in Southampton County. Using extensive research, Sharon Ewell Foster breaks hallowed ground in this epic novel, revealing long-buried secrets about this tragic hero.
Nat Turner. How is it that you came to write a work based on his story?
I’ve always had a love of history, a love I’m sure I inherited from my family. I remember my mother and father, reading was something they shared as a couple, reading books like Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. As a kid, I read everything I could get my hands on that was in their library. One of the books I remember seeing was The Confessions of Nat Turner, the novel by William Styron. It’s peculiar to me, but Styron’s was one of the few that I didn’t attempt to read.
Later, when I was a second semester freshman, I attended Western Illinois University—only for one quarter. It was the happiest time for me: I was newly married, very pregnant, very poor, and starving—we had no food. I would walk to class and it was not uncommon for me to literally see stars. I had no clothes that fit so I wore the same thing everyday: a pair of my husband’s jeans and one of his shirts. (This is really sad, right? Like a cautionary tale against teen marriage. LOL.)
Anyway, I had a great professor who taught me South African Literature and African American studies, Dr. Evie Adams Welch. I learned so much from her. She taught about Africa, the real Africa, about ancient Ethiopia and Christianity, about the literature of Africa, and about little known historic figures like Nat Turner.
One day, she pulled me aside. I was a freshman in a senior-level course. She told me that there were so many of our stories that needed to be told and that I wrote well enough to tell them. She planted that seed in me over thirty years ago. I couldn’t believe that dream for myself then. But here I am, somehow, doing what she told me I would do.
I read that you conducted extensive research for this book. Can you talk to us about the research you pursued and how easy or difficult it was for you to take all that information to develop The Resurrection of Nat Turner, Part One?
I researched and wrote on this book for five years. It was exhilarating and grueling. I located Nat Turner’s actual hand-written trial records. I spent years analyzing them and dozens of other related slave trials. I travelled to the town in Southampton County, Virginia, where the event occurred. I actually visited several times and conducted interviews, speaking with descendants of Nat Turner and the victims of the revolt (over 50 white people died.) In the wake of the revolt, hundreds of black people died.
For those who don’t know Nat Turner, and many of us don’t, he was a slave in Virginia in 1831. He led what is considered the most successful slave revolt in US history. So, yes, there were slaves who fought back against the oppression of slavery. Turner was tried and hanged, allegedly based on his own confession which was supposedly read in court and then recorded in a pamphlet called The Confessions of Nat Turner as told to Thomas Gray. Thomas Gray, in The Confessions, asserts that he was Nat Turner’s defense attorney.
In addition to the trial records and interviews, I read everything I could get my hands on—just like Dr. Welch taught me.
Immediately, standing in the courthouse reading the trial records, I knew something was wrong: There was no confession read in court. Nat Turner actually pled innocent. Thomas Gray was not Nat Turner’s attorney. Gray’s pamphlet is the primary document used for historical research. Styron based his novel on Gray’s pamphlet. We have all been living with 180-year-old historical lie.
It took me years of historical sleuthing, frustration, crying, and praying to figure out what happened. I searched out John Floyd’s diary, the governor at the time. It was like The Da Vinci Code meets Roots, like putting a puzzle together! What I found developed into The Resurrection of Nat Turner.
I can only imagine taking on such a deep, profound, historical topic, person for a writing project. How did you feel as you penned the last words of this book?
When I finished, I felt a sense of peace . . . and hope. I felt it was my mission to find the truth and to deliver that truth, to offer people a different perspective on Nat Turner, on slavery, and on what happened. I fought hard to get the story to daylight. Now, it’s for people like you to help me spread the truth, for readers to help me spread the real story—there is this big mountain, a 180-year-old lie, in front of us, but each one of us can read the book and then tell two, three or four others. Together, we can watch the mountain crumble.
Today [when interview was conducted] is actually the 180th anniversary of Nat Turner’s revolt. So, today, if there’s something that you’re living with that has you bound, stand up and throw off the shackles. That’s the hope the story left me with. Nat Turner, and the others who participated with him, fought against all odds. They stood up as human beings when everyone around them told them they were nothing. They stood up and risked their lives, with no army or police to protect them, for freedom and for their families.
We can do the same. We have the same power, the same right of self-determination.
I walked away from the manuscript feeling proud. We haven’t been taught to feel proud of the slaves. But Nat Turner taught me they were all heroes. We should honor them all, just as we honor prisoners of war. Against astounding odds they survived—and for that they are all heroes.
Children should go to school and learn about these American heroes.
What did it mean for you, personally, to write this book and to see it published?
I fought really hard to see the truth come to daylight. I felt like I owed it to Nat Turner. Each one of us hates it when someone lies on us, right? Can you imagine a lie hung on you for 180 years? The lie didn’t just smear him, it has tainted hundreds of people, generation after generation. I felt I owed this truth to their descendants. But, especially as a mother, I felt
I owed it to his mother to tell the truth about her son.
This is more than a book to me. It is a mission to correct the history.
There is an African proverb that says, “Until the lion writes his own history, the story of the hunt will always be told by the hunters.” It seemed like the court records were calling to me, like all those who had suffered were calling to me across the generations. I delivered the story home.
Now, it’s up to each of us to help spread the truth.
What have been some obstacles you’ve faced in the writing and publication of The Resurrection of Nat Turner, Part One…if any?
Lies don’t die easily. We all know that, right? I’ve been frustrated and discouraged sometimes. Sad sometimes that people I assumed would support me turned away, or even fought against me.
There were people who wanted to bury the book, to keep this truth buried so it wouldn’t come to light. I can only speculate on their motives.
I threw myself a pity party. But it didn’t last long.
I was praying and it came to me to rise above it all. I was praying and it came to me to fly above it all, to spread my eagle’s wings and ride the troubles to the top. I love even those who don’t love me, who stand against seeing this truth come to light, but no weapon formed against me shall prosper. I have spread my wings and I’m flying, rising! This is truth is coming to life. It will be whispered at workplaces, talked about on buses and trains and planes, it will be yelled from roof tops! I see people ordering online and crowding into bookstores.
Suddenly, after I gave up the pity party, people started coming out the woodwork to help me. People started encouraging me, without knowing what was going on, and asking how they could help. It was and is amazing!
And I have the best, most loyal, most supportive readers. Throughout the whole time, five years working on a story I thought would take me six months to write, and through all the adversity, they sent me messages to encourage me. They told me how much they were waiting for my next book.
They sent emails to the publisher. They told me how they were still buying multiple copies of my books and giving them to friends. And that’s really rare—you should hear other authors cry about how their readers don’t support them, about how they share books, but don’t buy them. I’m really fortunate; I’m blessed and I’m grateful.
I’m grateful, for it all, I’m grateful.
In what ways are you working to promote the novel–online and off?
It’s a mission! I just set up a The Resurrection of Nat Turner book page on Facebook. I’m doing blogs and radio interviews (I have two scheduled on public radio). I’ve updated my web site, and I’m working to get that site and another for the book updated and active by the 22nd. I’m doing speaking engagements, meeting folks at libraries and bookstores to help spread the truth about the book and about Nat Turner.
I don’t have any money backing the book, except my own. I’ve spent way more than I can afford. (Buddy, can you spare a dime? LOL) But so many friends have helped me. And I’m praying and trusting God. He’s in the midst of all this.
I’m doing all I can with what I have. And I have faith that people like you will help me spread the word—read the book and spread the truth. It’s in the hands of individuals to buy the book, read the book, and spread the truth.
Together, we can change history. We can correct history. Success is in our hands. If you blog, blog about The Resurrection of Nat Turner. If you teach, teach the truth in school. Make the book cover your computer wallpaper. Keep punching the lie with the truth, slice through the lie with the sword of truth.
Are you currently working on part two of the book? Part one dealt with “The Witnesses.” What does part two deal with?
I’ve finished writing Part 2. I’m actually reviewing the copy edits of the book. Part 2 is The Testimony. In Part 1, we learn who Nat Turner is from the people around him. In Part 2, Nat Turner speaks. He tells his own story, his testimony. He insisted that he speak, whispering to me that “they were all heroes”.