Arts Entertainments

Interview with J. Everett Prewitt, author of "Snake walkers"

Reader Views is very excited to speak with author J. Everett Prewitt, winner of four first place awards for his debut novel, “Snake Walkers.” Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us today.

Juanita: J. Everett, please tell us the meaning behind the title of your book, “Snake Walkers.”

J. Everett: The title is based on a mythical African tribe that teaches their children from birth how to walk through a nest of poisonous snakes without being bitten.

Juanita: Give us a little idea of ​​the main character, Anthony Andrews.

J. Everett: Anthony comes from a family of upper-class blacks who are more concerned with maintaining the status quo than seeking justice in the turbulent 1950s and 1960s. Through no fault of his own, he’s smart in books but naive about life. Due to his new job, Anthony is pushed into life-threatening situations where he meets people whom he learns to respect. They have a different point of view on how to deal with racial injustice and life in general, and Anthony’s perspective eventually changes.

Juanita: Is Anthony based on someone you know?

J. Everett: I didn’t have friends like Anthony, but I belonged to an upper-class black social group as a teenager due to my mother’s status as a beginning elementary school. I left after a year. Some of them were the closest I could get to someone like Anthony. There are some Anthony’s in the world today, so it wasn’t too difficult to understand their thoughts on issues like civil rights.

Juanita: How does Anthony reconcile with his childhood trauma while trying to solve the mysterious abandonment of a small town and the disappearance of fourteen white men?

J. Everett: To Anthony’s credit. He faces his demons head-on. He works out and runs in hopes that somehow this will alleviate his problem. Although he is a bit shy at first, he continues to face the violence that unfolds due to his discoveries and eventually becomes a stronger person because of it.

Juanita: “Snake Walkers” is a refreshing new look at the racial conflicts of modern American history. How common was it for ‘whites’ to disappear?

J. Everett: I’m not sure how common it was, but once I wrote the story, I began to hear numerous accounts of black people in the South fighting. One person told me that his family had a farm that was attacked by the Klan. His grandfather in telling the story simply said “They entered the property, but they did not leave the property.” I imagine there are quite a few stories like that. I listen more and more as I give talks across the country.

Juanita: I imagine you will continue to hear stories like this as your book reaches more and more readers. Who have you seen as your audience and what else are they saying about “Snake Walkers”?

J. Everett: My audience is as varied as the characters in the book. I have spoken to all the white audiences, black book clubs, library groups, and was even the keynote speaker at a real estate setup banquet. So far, I have only received positive responses to the book. Some questioned whether there were people like Bobby Joe Byrd, a white man who fought for black rights. I ask them if they remember John Brown. I was approached by black and white audience members who said they could relate to something that happened in the book. I hope to eventually be able to address young adults, especially young black people.

Juanita: Tell us about the research you did for “Snake Walkers”.

J. Everett: I visited the cities I wrote about (except Evesville), talked to various people there and others who were from there, read news articles, and looked online for a lot of my historical information. A writer from Arkansas was very helpful in recommending books about Arkansas. However, the most helpful person was an elderly white woman who was in Wynn’s library, researching her ancestry. She told me more about the area than all my other sources put together.

Juanita: How important is the need for a voice on this unrecognized aspect of the story?

J. Everett: It is very important. When portraying a minority culture or race, there needs to be balance. I can find a thousand books on hangings, beatings, castrations, etc., but very few on families who faced physical violence and won. Without balance, both those inside and outside the culture or race tend to view that group as victims and act accordingly.

Juanita: What is / are the underlying theme of “Snake Walkers”?

J. Everett: There are some. No one is “above the fray” when it comes to fighting injustice. Your strength comes from within. A strong and supportive family is essential when faced with insurmountable difficulties. Perseverance and an open mind are necessary to navigate the treacherous labyrinths of life.

Juanita: You graduated from high school, you went to Lincoln University, you were drafted into the military, during the turbulent 1960s. What was your experience of coming of age in these historic times and how has that influenced you? your writing?

J. Everettt: Since I was young, I felt compelled to fight against all the injustices that I encountered. Although he was prepared, the fights were rarely physical. However, it required a mindset that color does not make a person inferior or superior. During those tumultuous times, this belief was challenged, but subsequently reinforced so many times that it was no longer an issue. That is why my writing is based on telling stories of like-minded people that result in triumph and victory. That is the life that I lived in those times and that was the life that my family lived. My father, mother, uncles, aunts, and cousins ​​were great mentors in that regard, as they repeatedly overcame barriers and became very successful people.

Juanita: What was your inspiration for writing “Snake Walkers”?

J. Everett: I remember hearing stories in my youth about retaliation, rebellion, and fighting by blacks in the South from different elders, and those stories stuck with me. Johnson put it most succinctly when he noted that “not everyone won and not everyone lost.” I also videotaped my father, uncle, and aunt about their story growing up in Arkansas and often wondered why no one wrote the stories I was hearing. I decided that I would. There is an African proverb that says: “Until the lions have their own historians, the tales of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.”

Juanita: “Snake Walkers” is such an impressive debut novel that it receives many awards and great recognition. Are you going to write another one soon, and if so, can you tell us a bit about it?

J. Everett: My next book will be called Two Wolves. It will be a sequel to Snake Walkers. The setting will be Cleveland, Ohio in 1969 after the Glenville riots. Anthony, the protagonist of Snake Walkers is a reporter for a small newspaper and Raymond Williams (the heir apparent as patriarch of the family) has just returned from the Vietnam War. There will be a number of subplots, but Raymond’s girlfriend Myra is missing, and although she graduated from college, it will take all of her street knowledge to figure out what happened and deal with the consequences.

Juanita: Thank you for this enriching interview J. Everett. Are there any last thoughts you would like to share with your readers?

J. Everett: I was a bit overwhelmed by the response to the book. I started writing to fill a void due, in my opinion, to the misrepresentation of strong and solid black families and the positive results some experienced when they resisted injustice. I guess this has resonated with a lot of people and I’m grateful. I only regret that my father, who passed away a few years ago at the age of 95, was unable to share this experience with me.

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