Sharon Ewell Foster is a
critically acclaimed, award-winning author, speaker, and teacher. She
is the author of Passing by Samaria, the first
successful work of Christian fiction by an African American author, and
six other works of fiction. Her works regularly receive starred book
reviews—which is a rarity among writers—and has won a Christy Award,
the Gold Pen Award, Best of Borders, and several reviewers’ choice
Releasing this month is Foster’s
highly anticipated new novel, The Resurrection of Nat Turner,
Part 1: The Witnesses (Simon & Schuster), a story how
Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin,
aims to clarify the accepted history of Nat Turner’s prosecution.
Turner, the Ethiopian turned American slave, is a well-read patriot in
slaves’ eyes, but an ornery slave who needs to be put in his place in
his mistress’s eyes.
Foster chats with Christian
Fiction Online Magazine about this controversial novel, her
questions to God about her writer’s journey, and how her readers were
her saving grace.
Why is your publication
date for The Witness important in American history?
This is a significant year for
the historical figure Nat Turner, who led a slave revolt in 1831 and
was hanged for it. This year commemorates the 180 anniversary of the
Virginia uprising, his trial, and his death.
Turner remains a cult
figure—some see him as villain while others see him as hero. In my
research, I became convinced that most of what we’ve been taught about
Nat Turner isn’t true. Political spin wasn’t invented in 2011, it was
happening back then.
As the nation begins to
commemorate the 150 anniversary of the Civil War, Nat Turner is part of
that discussion. As the two events intersect—Turner’s 180 and the Civil
War’s 150—it’s important to have a frank conversation about what really
Why is Nat Turner’s
story important to Christians?
Nat Turner’s story is truly an
American story about the struggle for liberty. The history of America
is intertwined with Christianity.
Nat Turner, by all accounts, was
a faithful Christian. In fact, his detractors labeled him a fanatic.
But prior to the revolt, he was known as a Christian who didn’t drink
or steal, and he traveled all over the Tidewater area of Virginia
preaching the Word. He could read and write at a time when most of the
population of Virginia was illiterate. He was a family man.
Nat Turner was a Christian
slave. His owners were Christians. But there was a void between them.
In some ways, this is a story
about brotherly love, or the lack thereof. It is 2011, but that void
still exists between many white and black Christians today. The Lord’s
last prayer was that we would be one. That prayer resounds in my heart
and spirit. I pray that the Lord will use this book to draw us closer,
to help us have frank, loving conversation.
Why did you choose his
I think the story chose me.
I was going through a rough
time, one struggle after another. My back kinked up. I didn’t have
health insurance, so I was paying out much money trying to get relief.
Some book projects I’d been working on suddenly dried up. I was
penniless. My Christy Award and Golden Pen Award sat on the shelf
looking at me like “What we gone do, now?”
received an eviction notice. I started praying hard! I asked God if He
was trying to tell me He didn’t want me to write anymore. I wanted Him
to tell me, because I could get a job at the post office! My beautiful
daughter came to my rescue and took me in.
prayed and cried for months.
Suddenly, I got this fixation on The Confessions of Nat Turner,
the Pulitzer Prize−winning novel by William Styron. I started having
resurrection dreams. (In the
it’s Harriet Beecher Stowe who has
the dreams, but it was really me.) The dreams creeped me out.
About a year later, I was
talking to a guy I met at a conference. He asked me what would be my
next writing project. It just popped out of my mouth. “I’m going to
write a book about Nat Turner.” It startled me. The guy got so excited.
wrote a book proposal, all the
while thinking, “No one is going to give me a contract to write a book
about Nat Turner.” And all the while, I’m praying, “God, just let me
know if You don’t want me to write anymore.”
To my surprise, several houses
bid on it. Dave Lambert with Howard/Simon and Schuster acquired the
book. Nat Turner had a home, and I began the process of writing the
story. I got the confirmation that I needed.
And the funny thing is when I
was most discouraged, I got so much e-mail from readers—men, women,
whites, blacks, Poles, Hispanics, gays—all of them telling me to write,
they needed me to write. It was miraculous and encouraging—a light
shining in the darkness that surrounded me. When I couldn’t see, that
light was a path for my feet. I am so grateful to God for readers like
Why do are you the best
person to write this story?
When I was a freshman in
college, I had a professor, Dr. Edie Adams Welch, who told me that many
of our stories (historical) needed to be told, and that I wrote well
enough to tell them. Her words have been calling to me for thirty
I have a great love of history.
I worked at the Pentagon and part of my job was researching and
analyzing documents and transcripts. I am a dogged, intrepid, and
patient researcher. I won’t give up until I find the truth; I’m always
searching for daylight. That’s what it took to uncover the truth of the
I found the transcripts from Nat
Turner’s and other related trials. The truth of the story is really in
the trial transcripts. I researched them, analyzed them, and read them
again. If I read them once, I read them a hundred times. When I
couldn’t figure it out, I prayed.
The other benefit I have in
interpreting Nat Turner’s story is that I am a Christian. In his The
Confessions of Nat Turner, William Styron said he didn’t want
to use Nat Turner’s Christianity in interpreting his actions. Styron
had the right to make that creative choice, but it makes no sense to
me. It’s like trying to interpret a French person’s actions without
applying what you know about the language and the culture. My faith was
of great benefit to me in “reading” Nat Turner.
Finally, I think my cultural
heritage as an African American and a great-grandchild of slaves helps.
Many of the people who have written about Nat Turner are white.
I’ll be in Tyler, Texas, on
August 6. If you’d like me to speak or interview, e-mail me at
firstname.lastname@example.org, or hit me on Facebook at Sharon Ewell Foster
(I’ll be starting a fan page soon).
And join us next month
for the conclusion of this fascinating interview with Sharon Ewell