Mary’s Walk Planned for My Haley’s Book Launch
VIRGINIA BEACH- FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
For more information, please contact Cheryl Ross at email@example.com
My Haley’s new American epic The Treason of Mary Louvestre will launch worldwide in February of 2013. As part of the launch, the author is planning Mary’s Walk, to recreate the real-life journey the slave Mary Louvestre took when she walked from Norfolk, Virginia to Washington, DC during the bitter winter of 1862.
Haley is planning to stop at many bookstores along the way, to give talks and sign books. She is also planning on lecturing at Virginia and DC colleges and universities to discuss the amazing story of the black woman who risked her life to help the Union end slavery.
Haley was a collaborator with Alex Haley in helping to write his bestselling novel, Roots. She went on to marry Mr. Haley and was involved with the production of Roots, The Miniseries and other projects. This is her first novel
From the widow and collaborator of Alex Haley, award-winning author of Roots, comes a new American epic from the Civil War. The Treason of Mary Louvestre is based on the true story of a seamstress slave from the Confederate town of Norfolk, Virginia. When her owner gets involved with modifications to the ironclad CSS Virginia, Mary copies the plans and sets out to commit treason against the South. Facing certain death as a spy if caught, she treks two hundred miles during the bitter winter of 1862 to reach the office of Union Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles, where she hands over the plans. Mary’s act of bravery is ably told by Haley, using a rich narrative and characters drawn from that pinnacle era of American history. First there was Roots, now there is The Treason of Mary Louvestre.
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Growing up under her grandmother’s watchful, wise tutelage, My Lewis Haley spent her early childhood in South Charleston, West Virginia, before her parents moved the family to Columbus, Ohio. While working her doctorate in Communications at Ohio State University, My was inspired by a speech the author Alex Haley delivered on campus. After receiving her PhD, she set out on her next goal: to work with the renowned author. Impressed by My’s drive and talent, Haley gave her a major assignment—to assist him in writing the remaining two-thirds of a book that was long overdue to his publisher. Within a matter of months together they completed the work and that book, Roots, catapulted Alex Haley to international fame. My and Alex married in 1977, and over the years collaborated on many of his projects, including the miniseries Roots: The Next Generation. After Alex’s death, My Haley immersed herself in writing pieces based upon growing up with her grandmother and writing screenplays for feature film and TV.
Mary glanced up into an August Virginia sky that was baby’s-eye blue, clear and bright with eager promise, but she was late, again. Punctuality had become difficult. So much to do for what was being proclaimed the biggest social event of the South fast approaching; details added up as did problems. One of the biggest was that her best embroiderer, Cecilia, was low sick. Together with that, she’d had to turn away Confederate Army representatives begging her to make uniforms for soldiers or, God willing, men who might be soldiers after a strong, intelligent hand took hold of them.
She sighed and quickened her step as fast as her gimpy left leg would allow with the assist of her ebony walking stick. With a shrug, she adjusted the large shoulder bag. When she had set out from home, she felt sure she could be at Cecilia’s in about an hour, see to her, and get back to her duties at the salon. She had taken a short detour to the docks to see what Scoots Dunham had in the way of shells for buttons. He’d had shells all right, baskets of them, but not one was the size or shape she needed. Her new line of uniquefashions for the upcoming gala required a precise look. She berated herself for not previously drawing the man a picture, or writing a description of precisely what she wanted. But doing so could have placed her or Scoots in peril. Negroes—slave or hire-out—were forbidden to have anything to read or write in their possession. And these days the local sheriff wasn’t granting much latitude.
The bell-shaped Sheriff Claude Bridges had been testy lately. Every day, the town was filling with men and boys running to or from the war, others looking for work. An uncouth bunch largely, they spent time getting drunk, spitting on the streets, brawling and shooting each other, filling up the jail and throwing off the sheriff’s regular routine. The word on the street was that anyone who delayed the sheriff from sitting down at Mother Clara-Jean’s table, “ was just itchin’ for trouble.” Not only did such honeriness clench the sheriff’s stomach, but it vexed his mother and the other Presbyterians. Mary recently heard Mother Clara-Jean huff down the street muttering to herself fit to be tied that, once again, she was inconvenienced to bring Sheriff Claude a plate from her kitchen to the jailhouse. She was his mother, for God’s sake, her querulous voice sputtered as she plowed down the street, not his slave. Both of her chins and the hairs sticking out from them quivered with pure upset. She’d for darn sure bring this nettlesome problem up with the town council. They’d herd these varmints under control. They weren’t gon’ keep tartin’ on her nerves, by damn!
Norfolk’s citizenry was responding to the attack on Fort Sumter, South Carolina at twenty-seven minutes past four in the morning April 12, 1861, when Confederate forces fired on Union soldiers in Charleston Harbor. President Lincoln then called for volunteers from each northern state to form a military contingent to recapture federal property. No way was the South going to stand for any Northern reclamation, so it was assembling its own army. Several slave-owning states, already riled by the North’s righteousness , were seceding from the Union. Thorny in the face of Southern stubbornness, the Union established a naval blockade of the South.
Many who had answered the recent call to fight the Yankees were little more than ignorant kids out of back hollows and off dirt-scrabble farms, still so young that facial hair was a distant promise and their high-pitched voices sounded more like women than men. Roughnecks came from all over too, loud and coarse, with nothing but what they had on their backs. What they did possess was moonshine-inflamed bravado displayed with proudly puffed out chests and muddy mouths. “We gonna show them good-for-nuthin’ blue bellies what it means to be a Southerner!”
Mary chuckled to herself remembering a demanding officious Army officer, Lt. Cyrus Buchanan Lutrell, who recently showed up on the doorstep of her fashion salon. With the air of one sniffing something rank, his superior tone declared, “Don’t y’all know there’s a war goin’ on? Our boys need everything. Now.”
Mary smugly nodded, but said nothing.
“You got to make us three dozen shirts, six dozen socks, a score of gray pants all sizes.”
Mary shut the door on the lieutenant while he was in mid-sentence.
She had already made several batches of clothes for them and had too much else to do. The men wouldn’t go naked, she reasoned. Norfolk boasted at least five other seamstresses capable of meeting their pressing needs.
She, on the other hand, was no ordinary seamstress and there was nothing common about the upcoming high fashion affair. Strained to her limits, Mary was determined to see it come off without a hitch. She had worked diligently to reach what could launch her to a higher pinnacle, one that might provide her the security she so desperately sought. Already celebrated as a fashion designer extraordinaire, this was her time, her event. Everything was on the line for her success.
Prompted toward growth and prosperity for its inhabitants, at the same time, Norfolk was getting what it wished for but in ways it hadn’t counted on.
Bars and boarding houses—in that order—sprang up almost overnight, the wood still raw and unpainted, to accommodate the influx of people arriving every day by horse, wagon, boat, train, and especially straggling in on foot. The advent of the War Between the States, whites’ hardening attitudes toward slaves and negroes in general, a free-floating anxiety, and a kind of desperateness all combined to set a pall over the city.
Alarmed folks were bearing arms, not yet against the Yankees but against each other. The rich blamed the riffraff; the riffraff blamed the rednecks; the rednecks blamed the coons; the coons blamed the ignorant; the ignorant—the whole, restless passel of them—blamed everybody and divvied out hell to boot, just because. Overcrowding flourished and rank poverty provided the breeding ground for chaos and violence despite the patriotic boastings. Both the outright dishonest and the stouthearted fell in together, fraternally offering, “Lemme stand you a drink, buddy.” Then, red-eyed and swaying unsteadily, pulled their pistols and drew down on each other over any perceived slight. Leading citizens fled inside their mansions with guns loaded to defend against intruders. Frustrated city officials called for new regulations, for reform, and demanded better law enforcement for Norfolk’s refined residents.
Mary had never felt so vulnerable. She already had many influential clients from all over the region who relied on her for their wardrobes, both professional and social. Her popularity mounted as newspapers mentioned her frequently. Yet, Mary wanted more. Now, at age forty three, she felt stressed by an urgency to vault into a never-before-known position of prestige and protection—that of the untouchable, the one who had the proud eyes of the world upon her.
Regal, with the look of a woman ten, maybe fifeen years younger, Mary was in a word, “striking.” Her complexion remained near perfect, with just a couple shallow crow’s feet on the outer edges of thoughtful eyes flecked with gold. The skin beneath her jaw held firm as did her splendid figure. She was a few inches taller than the average women of her time, at just over five foot five. Even with her cane-assisted gait, men, even white gentlemen, openly admired her. She was dignified, well spoken with a deep, some would say molten, erotic voice. Her genetic cocktail of European and African traits allowed her to straddle all spheres of society.
Still, she was a second-class citizen by birth, a negro slave gifted to the Louvestres but who embraced Mary as kin, even bestowing her with the family’s surname. Mary enjoyed the reverence of those in the vaunted Louvestre social circle, becoming a celebrity among them, so much so that city leaders were eager to showcase her. Asking her to host her own fashion show and new line would, by extension, make Norfolk feel like less backwater. If Mary received national, or even international, recognition for her designs, so would Norfolk. She would be a high-fashion ambassador, proof of Norfolk’s sophistication. And she would bring further honor to the Louvestre name. “Set it on its ear!” Mayor William Lamb had urged her after she agreed to do the show. “Maybe that will solve the divisiveness among us, and usher in a new spirit of uplift. We need a revival of unity and purpose to transform bitterness, enmity, and in-fighting into community.”
“Give everybody a sense of puttin’ on a new suit of clothes,” was the way doyenne Tesh-Lucianne Louvestre had put it. “No longer would we be either patriarchs or peckerwoods. We’d strut, one and all, as truly what we are—Virginians!”
Mary didn’t have to be asked twice. She jumped at the chance to make that happen.
It seemed like forever that she had thrown all her creative talent into the challenge of staging the world-class fashion show. She ignored nagging fatigue, sore fingers, and a bad leg in order to design, sew, and deal with mounting details for preparation. Up before dawn, she went right to work. Only a growling stomach made her stop mid-morning for black coffee and a sweet. Her schedule had grown demanding and feverish, seeing clients during the day, doing fittings for her clothing ensembles into the afternoon, often stopping only when burning, red eyes in the lantern’s light made her fall into bed late at night.
She bought lace, tatting, ribbons, wools, cottons, and silks. She searched town shops for just the right buttons of all shapes and sizes. When she couldn’t find them, she went to her sources among the fishermen for materials to create them. She knew she would beat the odds and become celebrated beyond Norfolk. Her vision was to be rich and more famous than anyone like her. She would finally have the power to make her own decisions, be her own person, and live the rest of her life in a style that few attain. She really could compete with the fashion centers of the world, especially Paris. Perhaps she would even travel there and win European admirers. Yes, with a little luck she would achieve her destiny. In her quiet moments she even wondered if she would stay in Norfolk. If not, where would she go?
Right now though, she was behind schedule again, and frustrated. Only thirty days to finish! Even getting the right buttons was becoming a major undertaking. It wasn’t coming together as quickly as she hoped. Mary had just left Scoots Dunham’s shop, a little lean-to with a thatched roof near the docks. Dunham was a fisherman whose physique reminded her of a gnarled tree branch, but no kinder man or steadier worker could be found in all of Norfolk. He and his two sons labored to supply fish and seafood daily to not only the restaurants in town but the growing Army and Navy. And for her, he made buttons. He was used to her exactness and took no offense when she looked and then shook her head disapprovingly at the mussel shells he had brought in this morning. “I swear, you got yo’ own mind,” he said, pushing aside the ever-present chaw of tobacco in his lower lip. “All right, I’ll get you more tomorrow.”
The sun was already on its way to fierceness this early August morning. The breeze off the water’s frothy chop was salty and rich with smells of lichen, seaweed, and dock pilings. The humid air was already warm, just under the brow of heat and sweat that would later torment green flies to swarm both two-legged and four-legged creatures with the ferocity of angry bees. Now, on her mission to get to Cecilia, she strode down the narrow, cobblestone streets along the west side of the common, passing the open-lane market sellers setting up for the day’s demanding commerce. Goods and wooden crates crowded the walks and passageways.
Lola Burdine was one of the sellers. Black as pitch and skinny as a railroad tie, she boisterously cursed through the only two teeth she had in her head on whoever overturned her bucket of innards. Hers was a sausage stall. She made all the selections herself and was rowdy about her distaste that Norden Bedalia, another seller, crowded alongside her with his odious cages of birds—chickens, pigeons, quail, turkeys—all clucking and squawking an ear-splitting racket. They saw Mary passing by and both nodded deferentially.
Mary crossed by Fat Johnny Two-Fingers, named that simply because that’s what he had—two fingers. A popular fishmonger, he was an affable sort who didn’t just stand, his six-foot frame towered over others and, like an impressive scoundrel having the time of his life, he raised a sand. With stained apron tugged around his ample middle, Fat Johnny Two-Fingers galumphed around his stall in rubber boots the size of canoes. He trumpeted orders to a younger man who dashed about pouring water over big tin tubs filled with crabs clacking their claws as they tried to escape. To Mary he took a wide stance, swiped off his cap, lowered his head, and bowed with a flourish as she passed.
Mary glanced around. Now where was he? She was supposed to meet up with her assistant for the morning. He was one Devereaux Rainier Leodegrance de Perouse, driver for the Louvestres. She continued through the growing crowd but kept an eye out for him. As a rolling pushcart vendor whose booming baritone hawked oysters and clams cut through the growing crowd, she finally spotted Devereaux.
A mulatto in his late twenties, he strutted along. Erect, carrying himself with pride, his chest was thrown out. He pleated his forehead and with a hand raised to shade his eyes; he scanned the people. Mary watched amused as Devereaux screwed up his full lips and gingerly lifted his Balmoral boots, negotiating smelly brown piles of street debris. When he saw her, he took on a long-suffering expression. He let his body list to the side as he staggered toward her theatrically, carrying a cast-iron pot. His smooth, French-accented voice whined, “So early in the morning we do this. And without the carriage.” He sniffed and swatted air. “It is a shame to be here, a shame. The company you keep. My, my. And me, a beast of burden to haul this heavy pot.”
“Devereaux!” Mary called.
Ever the dandy, Devereaux wore black trousers fitted to his slim hips; his white shirt with blousy sleeves emphasized broad shoulders, while attention was drawn to his narrow waist by a red and black patterned vest tapered to his figure. Pale, golden sun burnished thick, black hair—his pride. It was pulled back from his buff-colored, aquiline features and tied in a thick ponytail at the nape of his neck.
He was not just handsome, she marveled, he was graced with true beauty. “Onward young soldier!” She marched off ahead of him.
Devereaux harrumphed. “I am no soldier. I do not wish to be soldier. Anyone can be soldier. I, Devereaux Rainier Leodegrance de Perouse, am fine gentleman, expert horseman, and splendid carriage driver.”
“Don’t say that too loudly now,” she said. “Somebody might think you’re tooting your own horn.”
“Toot! Toot! Toot!” he said.
Leaving the city’s small shopping district, their route took them into a rougher, residential part of town. Devereaux darted glances over his shoulder while continuing his tirade. “This place I do not like.”
“Really? Who would’ve guessed,” Mary said sarcastically.
His New Orleans’ inflections were more pronounced under distress. The halting English he now crucified even more. “This is not good place. High-class fine woman like you should never be in hovels like these. Dogs and pigs and children running all about.” He made tragic sounds.
“If you spill that soup,” Mary said, “you’ll have Cook Roguey to answer to and I don’t think you want that, surely.”
Devereaux sighed dramatically and readjusted the pot he was carrying. “I do not understand,” he insisted. “Why do we not use the carriage? Such a fine, nice carriage. Padded seats inside. So comfortable.”
“Too dangerous,” she said increasing the pace. “Unusual displays of luxury do not make good sense here.”
Suddenly a laughing seagull cawed overhead, startling Devereaux who screeched, ducked, and jigged. “Sweet Mary and Joseph!” he exclaimed.
She chuckled and watched the bird with a wingspan of a larded acre tuck and dive exuberantly from at least twenty-five feet high, beak first, into the cold river water after sighting food. “Patience, Devereaux. That carriage would draw even more attention to us. And, in the time it took us to get upstairs to see about Cecilia and back down again, it would be robbed down to nothing. You wouldn’t want me to leave you out front to stand guard, would you?”