I have been looking into schedules. Even when we read physics, we inquire of each least particle, What then shall I do this morning? How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time.
~Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

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On the first of each month,
a guest writer
shares
how they spend the day.

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Sanderia and me April 2024 Interabang Books Dallas

July 1, 2024: Sanderia Faye

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Sanderia Faye’s Mourner’s Bench, which won a Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, a Philosophical Society of Texas Award of Merit for fiction, and an Arkansas Library Association Arkansiana Award, is another wonderful debut novel. Last year during my 50 State Book Tour, a friend said, for Texas you have to read Mourner’s Bench. I did and I loved it. And in April of 2023, Sanderia and I had an event together in Dallas at Interabang Books.

Mourner’s Bench is a coming-of-age story set in the Arkansas Delta during the height of the Civil Rights Movement. In the summer of 1964, Sarah is eight years old. What she wants most in the world, even though she’s not yet old enough, is to sit on the Mourner’s Bench during the upcoming revival so she can be baptized and take responsibility for her own sins. Her mother, whom she calls Esther, left town when she was four, and her grandmother whom she calls Muhdea (short for Mother Dear) and her great-grandmother whom she calls Granny are raising her.

The following scene from Chapter Five shows you two sides of Sarah. In addition to the studious little girl who wants to sit on the Mourner’s Bench, we also see the Sarah who can get mad and fired up. And we get a little peak of Granny too. Sarah is our narrator and protagonist. Here Esther has just come back to town for a visit.

Esther had been home most of the day. If I hadn’t been getting ready to sit on the Mourner’s Bench, I would’ve lost my patience with her.
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“Sarah, let me wash your hair. Sarah, come help me wash the dishes. Sarah…” she said.
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Finally, I crawled behind the bed. I studied the Sunday-school lesson before it was time to read it to Granny and Muhdea. I waited for one of them to call me like they did every Saturday after we settled down from eating supper. When I finished loading my book satchel with every piece of reference material associated with the lesson, it came to me that nobody had called, so I collected my bag and went to see what was keeping them.
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Maybe I was so wrapped up in my own head I didn’t hear Esther. I was standing in the middle of the living room before I realized what she was doing. Words flew out of my mouth before I could catch them as if I’d never been taught my manners.
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“What the hell you doing? Why in God’s name are you reading to them? You trying to mess up everything I do?”
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I eyed Granny. She was probably thinking that she hated she’d taught me how to cuss. She’d said it was pretty much the only thing that would show I meant business. This old boy used to hit me hard in the middle of my back every day after school. One day Granny told me to put a Coke bottle in my book satchel and gave me the words to say when he tried to hit me. On that day, when he got close enough, I eased the bottle out of my book satchel, set the bag on the ground, and wrapped my fingers around the neck. As soon as he looked as if he were about to draw back his fist, I turned around and faced him, holding the bottle straight out toward his head. “If you hit me one more damn time, I will beat your ass like you stole something.” I said and stared him down.
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Granny told me to put as much emphasis as I could on “damn’ and “ass,” and to say it slow, and to never take my eyes off his.

It might be 1964, but Sarah has neither running water nor a washing machine at her house. What she does have is a set of  encyclopedias up to the letter H and a list of things she wants to find out. “I wrote so many pages that I started keeping them in a notebook. Why did switching get Esther in trouble? was my first question.” So much of the pleasure of this novel is being inside her head.

Dr. Sanderia Faye (Smith) is an Assistant Professor of Practice and Executive Director of the Dallas Literary Festival at Southern Methodist University. She is the co-leader of Pen America/DFW, co-founder of Kimbilio Center for Fiction (a community of writers from the African Diaspora), and the founder of LitNight Reading Series. She serves on the faculty at the Antioch University MFA Low Residency Program, and on the board of Deep Vellum Publishing. She is also a professional speaker, activist and sommelier, where she pairs wine with books.

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Come back on JULY 1st to read how SANDERIA FAYE spends her days.