Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Monica West is an English teacher and writer with degrees from Duke University and New York University. Her debut novel, Revival Season, offers a compelling snapshot of a Southern, Black, Evangelical community, examining both spiritual awakening and disillusionment, and celebrating both feminism and faith. The central character is 15-year-old Miriam Horton, who accompanies her reverend father as they travel with their family through small Southern towns, holding healing services for those suffering from ailments. Things take a dramatic turn when Miriam witnesses a shocking act of violence, and also discovers she might have powers she didn’t realize.
We spoke to Monica about her debut novel.
What inspired you to write Revival Season?
It was initially inspired by my frustration around gendered power dynamics and patriarchy, but it’s impossible to write a novel about an idea that big. Therefore, I had to locate it in something smaller and more tangible. The church happened to be a convenient place to situate the novel because I’m familiar with the power dynamics of women’s invisibility and male domination in that space. At the same time, issues of power and patriarchy are bigger than the church, so I hope that even people who aren’t religious find something to connect to while reading.
Were there any social themes you were hoping to highlight in writing this novel?
While I was writing, I was thinking about social themes like feminism, patriarchy and power. Religion happened to be a convenient vehicle for writing about these issues, but I don’t think that the book is religious, per se. The religious theme is more about who is allowed to lead the church and how patriarchal structures influence ideas about what leadership means, who is visible, and who can receive recognition. Even though you can find those examples in church, the themes are universal, too. For example, there are similar questions about who we elect to political office (and who we see as electable). In terms of race, my characters are Black because I wanted to highlight the particularities of the Black church and validate a segment of society that often goes unseen. Even as the book centers Black characters and the Black church, larger issues about feminism, power and patriarchy transcend race.
Why did you decide to include a person with a disability in the story?
Representation is important, and I wanted readers who are differently-abled to see themselves centered in a book that showcases their strengths. I also wanted Hannah to be differently-abled because it was important to present a character who never needed healing in a book that is inherently about healing in a religious context. Finally, I wanted to use Hannah to challenge Samuel’s conceptions about his own power and the limitations of his power.
Are there any authors who inspired you to write this book?
Toni Morrison is the most obvious one, because I’ve admired her writing for so long. In addition, this book could never have existed without James Baldwin, particularly Go Tell It on the Mountain. I was also inspired by Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible and Brit Bennett’s The Mothers.
Monica West will appear at Book Passage on September 22, 2021 at 5:30 p.m.
More new releases
Truth Is in the House by Michael Coffino
This novel explores what it’s like for two teen boys — one white living in Manhattan, the other Black in Mississippi — coming of age in the racially divisive 1950s. This epic and provocative tale plumbs historical and modern racial themes to explore redemption, forgiveness and the power of connecting through the human spirit. Coffino will appear at Book Passage on September 12 at 1:00 p.m.
We Want What We Want by Alix Ohlin
This collection of short stories is wholly unique and painful, yet humorous — filled with imperfect families, burned potential and inescapable old flames. Each one of the 13 stories is diamond-sharp and sparkling, making it impossible to not read each one… maybe even twice. Ohlin will appear at Book Passage on September 18 at 1:00 p.m.
Hollywood Eden by Joel Selvin
From surf music to hot-rod records, Hollywood Eden captures the blossoming of a young generation that came together in the epic spring of the 1960s to invent the myth of the California paradise. A group of sun-kissed teens from the University High School class of 1959 come of age in Los Angeles at the dawn of a new golden era. Selvin will appear at Book Passage on September 19 at 4:00 p.m.
Water: A Biography by Giulio Bocaletti
A global history told through the lens of water distribution, this book looks at how farming near rivers led to civilizations, colonization and wars over resources. Extraordinary for its monumental scope and piercing insight, this book richly enlarges our understanding of our relationship to — and fundamental reliance on — the most elemental substance on earth. Bocaletti will appear at Book Passage on September 20 at 1:00 p.m.
Reviews by Paula Farmer from the Book Passage.
For more on Marin:
- Living With a Disability While Aging: Local Author Francine Falk-Allen’s New Book Offers Insight and Humor on Coping
- View From the Team: Celebrating Our Best of the County 2021 Winners
- 31 Fun Things to Do in Marin and the Bay Area This August
Jessica Gliddon is the Senior Digital Editor for Make It Better Media Group. An international writer and editor, she has worked on publications in the UK, Dubai and Cape Town. She is a graduate of UC Santa Cruz, and is the former editor of Abu Dhabi’s airline magazine, Etihad Inflight. When she’s not checking out the latest exhibit at SFMOMA or searching out the best places to eat and drink near her home in San Francisco, she volunteers at the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito.