Jeffrey Blount has worn many hats over the course of his life–he’s a successful author, Emmy Award winning director, accomplished public speaker, and father. But before all of this success, Jeffrey was just a young African American boy grappling with the hurt of feeling excluded within his own community. This experience, along with a haunting news story he read about a gifted black child who was bullied for “acting white,” inspired his powerful new novel The Emancipation of Evan Walls. Read our conversation below to learn more…
Katie: Tell us a little bit about the book. What inspired you to write it?
Jeffrey: I was haunted by a child’s burdensome journey. In the late 1980s, I read a story in the paper about a boy – young, gifted and black. This 10-year-old little boy’s black peers physically and emotionally harmed him because they found his love of school to be a negative. They placed him in the category of “acting white,” a pejorative term placed upon intellectually inclined black kids by black kids who are not so inclined. This boy was not alone.
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EVAN WALLS IS TERRIFIED by the birth of his ﬁrst child because he doesn’t want her to suffer the isolation he had as a child. Seeing his torment, his wife, Izzy, prods him to explain. He tells of being a black child growing up in the racially charged 1960s. Inspired to overcome the racism and class status imposed on blacks, he dreams of a life bigger than that lived by most everyone he knows in the small Virginia town of Canaan. He is resented by friends and family for desiring a life better than theirs. Among the smartest in his class, Evan becomes a target of white kids threatened by the forced integration of their schools. Caught in a crossﬁre of hate from whites and his own people, who question whether he is black enough, Evan is often alone and bewildered. Only the love of his great grandmother, Mama Jennie, and his mentor, Bojack, keeps him on track. Together, they help Evan ﬁnd perspective and peace.