“Whenever I visit antebellum homes in the South, with their spacious rooms, their grand staircases, their shaded back windows that, without the thickly planted trees, would look out onto the now vanished slave quarters in the back, this is invariably my thought. I stand in the backyard gazing up at the windows, then stand at the windows inside looking down into the backyard, and between the me that is on the ground and the me that is at the windows, History is caught.” -- Alice Walker, quoted in The House on Diamond Hill
In 2011, Tiya Miles was awarded a MacArthur Genius Grant for her work connecting the histories of African and Cherokee people in Colonial America. I heard Miles speak this past spring at the National Council on Public History annual meeting in Nashville where she described the challenges of translating her historical monograph (a book that is based on a single subject) on the Chief Vann House into a fictional novel.
The monograph, The House on Diamond Hill, examines the racial and social complexities of Cherokee Chief James Vann’s plantation in Diamond Hill, Georgia, from its construction in the 19th century, through Cherokee removal in the 1830s, and up to its transformation into a historic site in the 1950s. The second book, The Cherokee Rose, is a fictional account of a similar house.
The novel uses the home and its history to make connections between individual’s different interpretations of the past. Both books serve as a means to emphasize that history is not linear or finite. That multiple perspectives shift the way race, gender, and politics interact with one another on the ground.
In both books, “history is caught” and translated deftly by Miles in a way that is at times both recognizable and strange -- but also important to telling the whole story of this period in American history. I recently interviewed her to learn more about her work and her process in writing The Cherokee Rose.... Read More →
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