The Activist’s Daughter
Greetings from on the road. Paul and I are en route to East Texas, via Nashville and the Mississippi Delta. We started out in Asheville, where we attended the North Carolina Writers Conference. This year’s honoree was Kathryn Stripling Byer, a wonderful poet and former poet laureate of North Carolina.
On a panel discussion that took up the theme of the global dimensions of southern literature, I was so taken with Ellyn Bache’s discussion of her 1997 novel The Activist’s Daughter, a coming-of-age story of a young woman who enrolls at UNC in the fall of 1963, that I had to grab a Kindle copy as soon as I could. It’s a great read.
Coming from Washington, D.C., where her architect father had been black-listed for designing a co-housing project, and her mother had since become a committed (obsessed?) activist, so busy running off to to the deep South, saving the world, that her own daughter felt ignored–seventeen-year-old Beryl Rosinski wanted nothing to do with these political obsessions. She thought she was “emigrating” to North Carolina as if to a foreign country, much the way her Jewish ancestors emigrated from the pogroms of Kiev to the safe harbor of New York.
Losing her long hair for a stylish bubble cut, buying a pair of Weejuns (at Lacock’s), Beryl tries desperately to fit in to the conservative ethos of Chapel Hill of the fall of 1963. But it’s only a matter of time–very shot time, in fact–that she comes to see the bigotry and hypocrisy that lie just beneath the surface.
I highly recommend this engaging novel to anyone familiar with what actually did happen in Chapel Hill in 1963-64–the months of protest in favor of a public accommodations ordinance, the unhappy chapter of our local history documented by John Ehle and others.