We talked with Bay Area-based writer Anita Gail Jones about her debut novel, The Peach Seed, a sweeping multi-generational family drama. Set mostly in the small Georgia town where Jones grew up, the novel explores themes of inheritance, tradition, the weight of history and the unbreakable bonds of family. Jones, a visual artist as well as a writer, shares some of her creative process, and talks about the impetus for writing her highly anticipated first novel.
Q. What was the original genesis of The Peach Seed? When did you start thinking about, and start writing, the novel?
This project began with a question for my father, Mr. Silas Jones, who had passed away, so I was on my own for the answer. My dad was born in 1921 in southwest Georgia, a place where Black men of The Greatest Generation lived in what James Baldwin called “the teeth of the Southern terror” — and yet — they were leaders in their families, churches, communities when the domineering culture and the U.S. government through actual laws and policies considered them less than human. I wanted to know how they did this, and turned to fiction for an answer.
Q. How does your work as a visual artist impact your writing?
There is constant, relentless cross pollination happening. For years I walked the same route in my neighborhood making notes in a small notebook, then moving on to dictating into my iPhone. Early on during those walks, I nurtured plans to expand The Peach Seed story across three mediums: novel, play and screenplay, and the cross pollination began — and continues! My visual artist and my writer are in perpetual conversation.
Q. Is there anything that you want local readers, especially, to know about your novel?
So many friends here in California have never been to the South, and they have some pretty hefty, misguided notions about what it’s like. And, of course, political barbarity does not help the image one bit. I’m hoping The Peach Seed can be a window and a door for readers everywhere to show the region and the uplifting parts of its rich history some respect by seeing it again. That is, after all, what the word respect literally means.
The Peach Seed begins with a surprise encounter: aging widower Fletcher Dukes recognizes Altovise Benson, the long-lost love of his youth, in a small-town Georgia grocery store. Through elegant storytelling, the reader learns of their courtship and separation during the civil rights movement, and how those events shaped the lives of the contemporary Dukes family. While vast in scope and containing multiple timelines (including chapters set during the slave trade of the 19th century), The Peach Seed is also an intimate and moving chronicle of family bonds and second chances. Appearing at Book Passage Corte Madera, August 5, 3 p.m.
Beloved and award-winning poet Jane Hirshfield’s new collection contains work drawing from nine previous books, along with over 30 new poems celebrating the natural world, the varieties of human connection, and the mysteries of perception. A career highlight from one of America’s finest living poets. Appearing at Book Passage Corte Madera, September 12, 6 p.m.
Just released in paperback, this riveting novel follows three sisters who collectively make up The Salvations, a girl group in 1950s San Francisco. As the sisters enter adulthood, their diverging paths and conflicts with their overbearing mother, Vivian, threaten their harmony, just as gentrification begins to transform their Fillmore neighborhood. A poignant story of a family and a city on the brink of profound change. Appearing at the Mill Valley Public Library, September 14, 6:30 p.m.
First Cat in Space and the Soup of Doom By Mac Barnett (Oakland), illustrated by Shawn Harris (Bay Area), Katherine Tegen Books, $16.99.
(For ages 8-12) Get ready for another extraterrestrial culinary adventure! In this follow-up to the best-selling The First Cat in Space Ate Pizza, First Cat and friends investigate the mystery of the Moon Queen’s poisoned soup. Barnett’s brand of intelligent whimsy and Harris’ fanciful illustrations continue to be a winning combination, and make the First Cat series an emerging classic in middle-grade graphic novels. Appearing at the National Kidney Foundation’s Author’s Luncheon, Palace Hotel, October 28.