A little over a week ago, I went to speak to a class at Lawson State Community College. One of the students had written to my publicist and asked me to come, saying her teacher loved my book and several of the students had chosen to write on it.
I was impressed. I’ve had plenty of teachers ask me to come speak before, but never a student acting independently. A rogue student. She wanted to be able to surprise the teacher, and she did. It was a great class, in part because–and this is hard to do now–they managed to ask me some questions I’d never been asked before. (I will say that children and students in general can come up with less predictable questions than adults.)
The first questions was: “How did you come up with fairy-eating possums?” Nice one. No one has ever brought up possums at all in discussion. I’d actually never thought much about my possum decisions. But possums are bizarre, and as a kid I thought they looked malicious. They seemed an obvious choice for fairy eating.
Another girl asked me how I came up with names, particularly Albert’s name. I answered that I picked a fmaily name or two, and I spent a lot of time looking through cemetary listings for good names from the 1930s (very different than names in the 2000s). It turned out that she had an Uncle Albert whose personality was much like Albert’s in the book. She thought maybe I knew him. (For the record, I did not steal her Uncle Albert.)
Most interestingly–and this isn’t the first time it’s happened with groups of teenagers or 20-somethings–the younger students were baffled by why Albert and Jonah’s friendship couldn’t go further. Why they couldn’t sit down and have dinner together. A few students who were maybe in their 40s or older, nodded in agreement when I explained that there a happy ending was really possible for a black man and white man wanting to conduct a friendship in the Jim Crowe South. But I think the younger students never did really understand it, and I still sensed a real righteous indignation over the overt racism, and, more interestingly, an inability to personally connect to it.
Which I think is ultimately a very good thing. I think. We’re only a couple of generations removed from segregation, and yet the young men and women in the class found it ridiculous–unbelievable–to think they couldn’t eat dinner with someone of the opposite race. “Ridiculous” is a very encouraging thing.