THE BOOK: Waveland.
PUBLISHED IN: 2015
THE AUTHOR: Simone Zelitch
THE EDITOR: Linda Gallant.
THE PUBLISHER: The Head and the Hand.
This is a Philadelphia press established by Nic Esposito. It began with a series of themed almanacs as well as chapbooks which were sold through local vending machines. I knew some people involved with the press and admired their innovative marketing techniques and their role in the Philadelphia literary community. Also, the books they publish are beautiful. That matters.
SUMMARY: In 1964, a thousand white Northern college students went to Mississippi , hoping to call call attention to that state’s brutal suppression of African Americans. They taught in Freedom Schools, and helped register voters for alternative elections in the hope of challenging the legitimacy of the all-white Mississippi delegates at the Democratic Convention. Waveland focuses on one of those Freedom Summer volunteers, Beth Fine, an abrasive outsider who brings her good intentions to Mississippi. Beth both literally and metaphorically jumps into deep water without knowing how to swim. In the course of that summer and the years that follow, Beth tries to transcend the limitations of her good intentions. She believes in questioning authority, but as her commitment deepens, her questions change, and the nature of authority becomes harder to determine.
THE BACK STORY: I’m a history nerd, and have always interested in radical politics in one form or another. I came of age in the late ’70s, a time of deep and cynical disappointment, but as a a novelist. I couldn’t accept a simple disappointing story. Somehow, somewhere, I learned about the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee– founded in 1960 during the student sit-ins at Woolworth’s, determined to include the concerns of local people, and eventually destroyed through their internal divisions with a lot of help from the FBI. If you’re interested, I have a lot of suggestions for further reading on my website. https://simonezelitch.com/waveland/
Yes, this is impressive history, but history isn’t the same as fiction. Eventually, what turned that history into a novel was Beth Fine– well-meaning, hapless, and (I hope) capable of growth. Beth’s experience in Mississippi owes a lot to my experiences teaching at Community College of Philadelphia. I’m a white instructor teaching primarily African
American working class students who are the products of a school system in free-fall. I’ve been there for over twenty-five years now, and continue to make mistakes every semester, as I face students with yet more challenges, and—I hope—learn from those mistakes.
Beth drives some readers crazy, but I think she’s the strongest, deepest character I’ve ever written. Maybe I identify with her too much.
WHY THIS TITLE?: Waveland is the name of a town in Mississippi where activists gathered in the aftermath of 1964 Freedom Summer to discuss the future of what they called “The Movement”. It’s worth noting that during that conference, women presented an anonymous paper about “The Position of Women in the Movement.” That’s when Stokely Carmichael made his famous comment that the position of women in the movement was “prone.” According to one eye-witness, he was joking with some women on the dock who laughed right along with him. When I traveled through Mississippi, I got to sit on that dock in Waveland. This will sound corny, but it reverberated. Many movements of the ’60s can be traced to SNCC’s experiment in radical democracy, among them, Second Wave Feminism, The Berkeley Free Speech Movement, and Students for a Democratic Society.
WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? You should read Waveland if you want a complex portrait of a period too often reduced to clichés, and if you want to follow an imperfect and very human central character who grows in the course of the novel, and who learns a lot about herself. As is the case with most historical fiction, Waveland raises more questions about the Civil Rights Movement than it answers—particularly the role of white allies in that movement. Those questions, in themselves, are reasons to read the book. Speaking of alliances and difficult questions, Waveland is also about the role of Jews—both Northern and Southern—in the Civil Rights Movement, and is of particular interest to those who wish to explore that role.
“There has been surprisingly little fiction about the endlessly fascinating, necessary history of the civil rights movement, but WAVELAND is a compelling addition to that short bookshelf. In a variety of voices, Simone Zelitch has caught the complexity, the satisfactions, and the contradictions of those urgent times” — Rosellen Brown, author of Half a Heart and Civil Wars, winner of the Janet Kafka Prize.
“Waveland captures what it was like in 1964 to want to live for freedom, and to be willing even to die for freedom. It captures what it was like for young Northern volunteers to travel South to be part of a movement to make society better. It captures the vibrant commitment of SNCC and the organizing that helped to change the country. it captures what it is like to try to live your values, try to change the world by trusting in local people and organizing and finding perhaps that you change yourself most of all.” — Heather Booth, Freedom Summer Volunteer veteran and former Executive Director of the NAACP National Voter Fund.
“Simone Zelitch captures the discipline, passion, and confusion of the civil rights movement of the early 1960s that pushed for justice by building a civic and open society.” — Jewish Book Council
AUTHOR PROFILE: Waveland was the fourth novel I’d published. My books range in subject matter from medieval peasant revolts (The Confession of Jack Straw) to retelling of biblical narratives (Moses in Sinai and Louisa), to—most recently— Judenstaat, an alternative history about a Jewish State established in Germany in 1948. What these very different novels have in common is this: I like to tell stories that aren’t often told, and often take on the perspective of marginal characters. Much of this interest probably comes from my own experience growing up as a misfit on the autism spectrum, and as I’ve grown older (I’m 57) and have matured (I hope), my interest has extended to the nature of history itself. What do we remember? What do we deliberately decide to forget? FYI, Judenstaat is coming out in paperback, and you can find out more about on my author page at PM Press: https://www.pmpress.org/index.php?l=product_detail&p=1052
AUTHOR COMMENTS: When I began writing Waveland in 2010, I wanted to celebrate heroes in the Movement, particularly revolutionaries like Ella Baker and Bob Moses who are far too easily forgotten. In 2019, when I consider Waveland’s contemporary relevance, I think of the role of white folks in current movements for racial justice. I know I find it difficult to be an ally to African Americans without tangling myself up in good intentions. If white readers take one lesson from my book, I hope that it’s the inevitability of making mistakes and the need to be fearless enough to make them, and if black readers take one lesson from my book, I hope that it’s that white people are capable of learning from their mistakes. We need to be brave– all of us– and also generous. The two don’t always go together.
Your can find a sample chapter here: https://simonezelitch.com/waveland/excerpt-from-waveland/
LOCAL OUTLETS: I’m a Philadelphia author, and thus my book is most likely to be found at Joseph Fox and Big Blue Marble. It is certainly on the shelves of The Head and the Hand’s own bookshop: at 2644 Coral St.. Philadelphia, PA 19125
WHERE ELSE TO BUY IT: Indie Bound http://www.indiebound.com is the best place to search for a title at your local bookstores. Waveland might not be on their shelves, but they can order it. It is also available through http://www.powells.com, an actual bookstore in Portland Oregon, and my favorite go-to online source for books.
Do not buy this book or anything else on Amazon (sorry, Snowflake readers, particularly as that’s Darrell where found me). Amazon is—strictly speaking—evil. Its ethos as frictionless and curated consumerism has infected every aspect of our culture. It is also no more inevitable than, say, global warming. Fight it.