Britt Bennett’s novel ‘Vanishing Half’ about passage, colorism, identity

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In Brit Bennett’s novel “The Vanishing Half”, fair-skinned African-American twin sisters are separated when one decides to pass for white, leaving her family behind.

The novel, which delves into the concept of identity, was a New York Times bestseller and named one of the newspaper’s best books of 2020.

Bennett, 31, who grew up in Southern California, attended Stanford University and the University of Michigan and now lives in New York City. She published her first novel, “The Mothers”, in 2016. She has written numerous essays, including “I Don’t Know What to Do With Good White People” and “Addy Walker, An American Girl”, on the first novel by the Pleasant Company. Black doll.

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These days, Bennett is working on his third novel and appears occasionally at public, mostly virtual, events like his Sunday event presented by the Columbus Metropolitan Library. She recently spoke by phone with The Dispatch.

Question: “The Vanishing Half” begins in the 1960s in Mallard, Louisiana, a town where fair-skinned blacks are predominantly cultivated. How did you imagine such a concept?

Bennett: My mother is from Louisiana and she remembered towns like this one, mostly occupied by black people with lighter skin. Mallard really is a place that takes these ideas to the extreme.

Q: What inspired you to write about the concept of surpassing?

Bennett: From the idea of ​​this city, I became interested in writing about colourism and transcendence, which are in a sense two sides of the same coin – and the impact that color has on the lives of these people. people when they go from black to white.

Q: The book was on many “best” lists and was one of former President Barack Obama’s favorite books of 2020. How did you feel?

Bennett: It was one of the most surreal moments. … It was exciting. I was at my parents’ house when I found out and was able to tell them in person. … (Having the book) to be chosen by someone we know and understand to be a book lover was wonderful.

Q: “The Vanishing Half” is going to be an HBO series with you as an executive producer, right?

Bennett: Yes, we are working on a limited series but it is very early in the process.

Q: You wrote the 2021 essay “The Performance of Racial Passing” as a commentary on Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel that is the basis of Rebecca Hall’s film, “Passing”. Have you seen the movie and if so, what do you think?

Bennett: I liked that. … It was a very faithful adaptation of the book, which is close to my heart as a person who loves novels. It was shot beautifully and the cast was very good.

"The half that faints" (Riverhead, 352 pages, $ 27) by Brit Bennett

Q: Is overtaking a problem in America today?

Bennett: I imagine this happens to some extent, but the passage is inherently unknowable. Historically speaking, we will never know how many people have died and who may have died now. … Identity has always been fluid. Maybe we now have a language that talks about this fluidity and the concept of being multiracial. What is interesting in this book is the universal desire to be others, to reinvent oneself. I think this is true for everyone regardless of race.

Q: What are your readers telling you or asking you about “The Vanishing Half? “

Bennett: What people tell me are their own complicated stories or about their strange relationships with loved ones or a deceased relative. They also want to know more about the characters – what happens to them after the book ends.

Q: Addy Walker, the American Girl doll, is a slave whose life is troubled and completely different from other America Girl dolls. How did you write on it?

Bennett: It was something I was really excited to write. This essay is full of questions: what does it mean to own this particular toy, what it is like to be a black adult tasked with teaching black history to black children , how to protect a child’s innocence and tell the truth is something black parents struggle with all the time. I wanted to answer these questions.

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Q: Did you have an Addy Walker doll?

Bennett: I did and I still have it somewhere.

Q: How do you navigate between fiction and non-fiction?

Bennett: I see myself primarily as a fiction writer. Non-fiction can be interesting for exploring certain ideas and there is a sense of finality that I don’t have with fiction novels. For me, novels are commitments for five to ten years and non-fiction can be done in a week or two. Both are great for exploring the things I want to talk about.

Q: Will the race always be in what you write?

Bennett: I think I write about people – the full experience and facets of identity, race, class, all of those ways of being a person.

Q: What are you working on?

Bennett: Volume three, a novel. It’s still very early days but it’s about music and it’s fun to research. I come from a nice musical family, but I didn’t have any inherent talent so it’s fun to imagine.

Q: What’s the best book you’ve read lately?

Bennett: The new Jennifer Egan (novel), “The Candy House”. It picks up where “A Visit from the Goon Squad” left off. Most of the non-fiction I’ve read has been about researching the music book.

Q: When did you decide to be a writer?

Bennett: This is what I have always wanted to do. I have always liked to tell stories. (Child) I wrote short stories, plays, puppet shows. I feel very lucky that it has worked so far.

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In one look

Brit Bennett will appear in a virtual event, part of the Columbus Metropolitan Library’s Carnegie Author series, at 2 p.m. Sunday. To register for the free event, visit www.columbuslibrary.org.


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