On the Hazy Line Between Fact and Legend in The Chaneysville Incident
Matthew Hunte Guests on the Lit Century Podcast
with Sandra Newman and Catherine Nichols
Welcome to Lit Century: 100 Years, 100 Books. Combining literary analysis with an in-depth look at historical context, hosts Sandra Newman and Catherine Nichols choose one book for each year of the 20th century, and—along with special guests—will take a deep dive into a hundred years of literature.
In this episode, writer Matthew Hunte joins host Catherine Nichols to discuss David Bradley’s 1981 novel The Chaneysville Incident, a historical novel based on a legend of 13 runaway slaves who killed themselves to avoid being caught and returned to slavery.
From the episode:
Catherine Nichols: The book is describing something really clearly that I understand is in fact reality of how people are thinking, why they’re doing what they’re doing. It’s just that the metanarrative of the book is that he’s trying to find—and he ultimately does find—this sort of element of Black wisdom that was stolen by Christianization, beyond being stolen by slavery. This idea that death isn’t the end of people being together, and that it’s not the end of your personhood or your membership in the community. And when he got there, it felt so emotionally powerful. It felt like—you were describing, there’s sort of a hazy line between facts and legends, but the fact that there is that hazy line between fact and legend that he’s trying to pick apart, it’s like he’s had something around him all the time and he’s sort of been able to feel it, kind of like the voices in the wind. But he doesn’t quite know how to put it together into something, into a real picture. And then he does, and it all comes together and he really understands something.
Sandra Newman is the author of the novels The Only Good Thing Anyone Has Ever Done, shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award, Cake, and The Country of Ice Cream Star, longlisted for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction and named one of the best books of the year by the Washington Post and NPR. She is the author of the memoir Changeling as well as several other nonfiction books. Her work has appeared in Harper’s and Granta, among other publications. She lives in New York City.
Catherine Nichols is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Jezebel and The Seattle Review, among others. She lives in Boston.