Author On the Bookcase: Susan Gregg Gilmore
Author On the Bookcase
Susan Gregg Gilmore
Thrilled to welcome Susan Gregg Gilmore, author of The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove, to On the Bookcase. Susan novel's tells the story of Bezellia Grove, the daughter of Nashville's most prominent families. She is expected to embrace her position in high society. Nobody in Nashville has a bigger name to live up to than. In 1960's Nashville, relationships are complicated, where society remains neatly ordered by class, status and skin color. Bezellia and Samuel, son of her nanny, and the family's handyman, have a clandestine affair. Their romance is met with anger and fear from both families. In a time and place where rebelling against the rules carries a steep price. Bezellia must decide whether it’s her heart or her heritage that define her.
The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove was born at a dinner table. As a Southern girl whose family always valued the preparation of the meal as much as its consumption, this seemed like the perfect birthplace for a Southern story.
Truth be told, I was at a dinner party shortly after moving back to my hometown of Nashville when a woman at the table introduced herself as "Zee," a nickname for Bezellia (although she spells her name another way). I was immediately taken with the name, its rhythm and melody, and I knew at that moment there was a strong girl waiting for me who could propel a story forward on her own.
At about the same time, I was touring a home in Nashville that I had often played in as a child. It was a beautiful house directly across the street from my childhood home, but this was the first time I had ever walked into the basement. When I got downstairs, I stood still, breathless even. In front of me were six rooms - cinder-block walls, no windows, double locks on the doors.
It's not that I was unaware of racial inequality growing up in Tennessee. I was. Believe me, I was. It pained me then as a small child. And it pains me now. But seeing these rooms and realizing that while I was happily playing upstairs a very different world existed literally beneath my feet left me very, very disturbed.
I walked away understanding that I had to come to terms with the South I knew, the South I saw, in my way. And the only way I knew to do that was to tell a story. And thankfully, I had already found a girl with a very big name who was going to help me do what needed to be done.
Just yesterday I received an email from a reader who told me that she had grown up in the South during those final dark hours before the Civil Rights Movement really took hold.
She said reading The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove "had been like a window into the past reliving all these memories through Bezellia." What more could I have ever hoped for?
In celebration of National Reading Group Month, Susan is talking to book clubs in October. Details on Susan's website.
Thanks, Susan! Identity, sense of place, race relations -- great fodder for reading groups!
“Nobody knows how to weave a spell better than Susan Gregg Gilmore, as she draws us into the precarious childhood and complicated life of poor little rich girl Bezellia Grove, whose path winds through some of the South’s darkest woods—race, class, insanity—familiar ground for a Southern novel? Not so fast—surprises await. This novel is a pure enchantment.”—Lee Smith, author of Mrs. Darcy and the Blue-Eyed Stranger and The Last Girls
Susan Gregg Gilmore has written for the Chattanooga Times Free Press, the Los Angeles Times, and the Christian Science Monitor. Gilmore currently lives in Chattanooga with her family.