Q&A With "Abraham's Well" Author Sharon Ewell Foster
- Tuesday, March 20, 2007
Inspired by true events, authentic slave narratives, and other historical accounts, Abraham's Well is the profoundly moving story of the Black Cherokee – African Americans, both slave and free – who, along with native people, walked the Trail of Tears. And it is the story of an author who, in researching and writing, found her own way home.
In this interview, author Sharon Ewell Foster discusses her inspiration and research for "Abraham's Well," her love of both contemporary and historical fiction and her advice for budding writers. …
How did you come up with the concept for "Abraham’s Well"?
Like many people, I am a history buff, as are many people in my family, including my children. My daughter, Lanea, is pursuing her master’s degree in history.
She was working on her thesis and she entitled it “Indian in My Family.” Its genesis was the claim by so many people that they have Native American heritage. Her focus was that, though it is little known, people of African descent and people of mixed heritage also traveled the Trail of Tears, which was the forced removal of native people from their land in the southeastern United States to Indian Territory (Oklahoma).
I was fascinated, especially since there were rumors in my family about our own mixed heritage. My daughter and I both began doing research, which we shared and discussed, and "Abraham’s Well" was born. It was important to me to tell the story from the native perspective, something rarely done.
Is any part of "Abraham’s Well" factual?
"Abraham’s Well" is not a cowboy and Indian story. I didn’t want to do that. It’s based on actual events, true accounts, and slave narratives.
I wanted to tell the truth – this is not a story about savages. It’s a story about teachers, preachers, politicians, mothers, fathers, children, about everyday people who were forced off their land. These were people with houses, farms, and schools. That changes how you view the event. It is about everyday people who walked a thousand miles away from the land they loved. The African-Americans on that journey, in particular, have often been ignored. I wanted to tell their story, to make it come alive, and to tell the story of their resettling in Indian Territory.
To me, history isn’t about dates, it’s about the story. I wanted to write an account where readers could feel the truth and relate it to their everyday lives.
For example, one of the things that surprised me most was that there were Native American preachers, black preachers and white preachers, working together – even at the risk of their own lives. I haven’t read that in any fictional accounts. I haven’t seen that in any movies. I didn’t expect it to come up as I researched. I mean, we struggle so much with unity and reconciliation now – as if it’s a new thing.
But just like now, there was a core group of people trying to honor God – trying to honor Him by loving their neighbors. But there were also people who didn’t think it was important, and those who actively resisted it and made it against the law for black people, slaves, to be taught about Christianity. The work of Patrick Minges, the historian, really opened my eyes. So, yes, I talk about Reverend Bushyhead, Brother Jesse, and Evan Jones. They were real people, heroes of faith.
In the United States, we often view issues of brotherhood and unity as sort of “nice to haves,” or quality-of-life issues. But for those people, and for many people around the world today, brotherhood is a life or death issue. My job was to bring those people to life, to bring a meeting to life. I wanted to honor their courage.
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