Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The African-American Experience: Interview with Katrina Parker Williams on The Trouble Down South and Other Stories

Today, I'm talking with Katrina Parker Williams about her African-American history-themed anthology, The Trouble Down South.

1) Tell us about your anthology. 

Trouble Down South and Other Stories is a short story collection of historical fiction that chronicles events spanning more than 150 years and addresses a wide range of experiences from African-American perspectives. The stories are set in the South amid a changing landscape in which the characters are forced to wrestle with the social issues surrounding Native Americans, slavery, racism, Prohibition, World War I, the Korean War, Civil Rights, the Vietnam War, health, religion, mental illness, and education.

2) What advantages do you feel exploring your themes in short story form has provided versus full-length novels?  

 I think one advantage of the short story form is I can explore various topics of interest to me, whether it be a character analysis, a setting, a plot, or what have you.  It is fun to try to capture a snippet of life in a short story and leave the reader wanting more.

3) Are all your stories completely fictional or have they been inspired by particular historical events? 

Many of the stories in the collection are fictional, but several of them were loosely based on events from my past and from my mother's past.  For example, the short story "Rock" is loosely based on my mother's recollections of World War II stories about colored men returning home from war.  I wanted to capture the essence of her remembrances in "Rock".

4) Other than the African-American experience, is there a particular thematic emphasis that unifies the stories in your anthology?

One theme that tends to run through all of the stories is the sense of some type of "trouble" befalling the characters in the stories.  Since the stories are set in the South, I wanted to create a title representative of the theme in each story, hence the title Trouble Down South and Other Stories. 

5) Your collection has a focus on the South. Although African-American history and the South are inextricably linked, the African-American experience isn't limited to that region. Did you consider including stories that took place in other locations?  

I did consider using other settings for the stories and even other characters from different regions of the country, but those stories didn't make it into the collection.

6) Your stories are told mainly from the African-American perspective. What advantages and disadvantages does this focus bring to your stories? 

Being that many of the stories are based on my personal experiences and my mother's recollections of her past, it was advantageous for me to draw upon those experiences to try to capture the realism of events and to ensure the believability of the characters.  Many of the characteristics of the characters in the short stories were taken from people I knew:  family members, friends, people in the community, etc.  Once I had a character developed, it was fairly easy to draft a story based on that character. 

7) Are there any authors who have influenced your work?

I do like the works of Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Ernest Gaines, Sue Monk Kidd, Terry McMillan, Maya Angelou, and Mark Twain.  I am sure all of these authors and many more have had some influence on my writing.

Katrina Parker Williams is the author of a short story collection Trouble Down South and Other Stories, the novel Liquor House Music, and three short stories Missus Buck, Rock, and Slave Auction.

You can check out Trouble Down South and Other Stories in both electronic and physical forms at:

Barnes and Noble


Arlene said...

This anthology sounds fascinating, and what a wonderful tribute to your mother. I love the same authors as you. A comparison (his hair was the color of overturned sod), I will admit to stealing from Toni Morrison. It's such a visual, I can even smell it.
Congrats on your book, I wish you much success.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for taking the time to interview me. I enjoyed sharing my thoughts with you.

Katrina Williams

Anonymous said...

Arlene, thanks for those kind words. I agree with you--I love the way Toni Morrison can turn a phrase. Thanks for commenting.

Katrina Williams

Shannon said...

What a really interesting premise for an anthology. I'm always impressed by short story writers - I just don't have the skill to encapsulate a story so quickly and concisely! Congratulations.

Anonymous said...

Hi Shannon, thanks for the comment. I have heard some authors say it's harder to write a short story than a novel. For me, it is easier to write a short story rather than a novel. Once I develop a character, I decide what I want that character to do and draft my story accordingly.