Susan Rebecca White, author of A Place At The Table, stopped by to answer a few questions.
Interview with Susan Rebecca White:
Susan, what was the inspiration for A PLACE AT THE TABLE?
Though A Place at the Table is a work of fiction, and neither Bobby Banks nor Alice Stone are stand-ins for Scott Peacock and Edna Lewis, the seeds of inspiration did indeed come from the friendship between Scott and Edna, dubbed “the odd couple of southern cooking.” Miss Lewis has now gone on to her glory, but back in the day she and Scott were great friends, despite the many outward differences between them, most notably race and age. Raised in a community of freed slaves in Virginia, Miss Lewis was over fifty years older than Scott, a young white boy who hailed from a tiny town in Alabama. The two bonded over cooking. Eventually they wrote a cookbook together, The Gift of Southern Cooking, which is a fantastic record of the South’s long and esteemed culinary tradition and heritage, the roots of which come from Africa.
My mom gave me a copy of The Gift of Southern Cooking when it was first published, and I fell in love both with the recipes and the story of Scott and Edna’s friendship. That was long before I ever thought I might write a novel inspired by the two of them. Instead I cooked nearly every recipe in the book, especially when I was living in San Francisco, far from my native South. I would make Scott and Edna’s roast duck stuffed with red rice or something simpler, cheese straws or preacher’s cookies. Doing so allowed me to be back in the South, at least while eating.
This is a long way of saying that while I had my own story to tell in this novel, I wanted to pay homage to Scott and Edna’s atypical and beautiful friendship, to shed light on the unexpected connections between us, rather than the things that keep us divided and suspicious of one another.
The characters of Alice and Bobby were inspired by the real life friendship of chefs Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock. Was Amelia or Kate inspired by any real life people? Or are they created from your imagination?
On some levels every single character I write about contains some element of me within them. I guess stating that is to admit that I have many flaws, because my characters are all far from perfect! When I was writing the character of Amelia I was living in the carriage house of my good friends Peter and Bruce, and spending a lot of time with their family, including their daughters Teagan and Olivia. I got to participate in the daily routines of life with young kids: the afternoon bike rides, the early dinners, the bath time rituals before getting to choose a treat for dessert, the stories read and songs sung before bed. I loved the gentle rhythm of family life (though my friend Peter would laugh at my use of the word “gentle” to describe getting his girls to bed—they often fight hard against the day ending.) My time with Teagan and Olivia really influenced my understanding of the type of mother Amelia was to her two girls. I wrote lots and lots of detailed scenes showing Amelia raising her kids, but I ended up cutting a lot of those scenes because while they were important for me to understand, they weren’t important to show the reader in order to carry the story forward. But having written about Amelia as a mother helped me to better know her as a woman. I guess what I’m trying to say is that my personal experience with my friends’ kids helped me build the character of Amelia.
As for Editor Kate, well she’s sort of my ideal. I’ve known a few women like Kate in my life, women who are utterly competent and forthright. Women who make it a point of pride to always keep their word, to be someone their friends and family can rely on. This type of woman doesn’t let society define who she is—or at least she resists definition. For example, Kate doesn’t mind being traditional (she has prepared many dinners for her husband) but she also has no qualms breaking all types of boundaries in terms of the work she does and the space she makes for herself in the world. Through Kate I wrote a model of a woman I would one day like to be.
Have we, as readers, heard the last from Bobby, Amelia and others in A PLACE AT THE TABLE? Or are you open to revisiting those characters in a future book, perhaps?
Oh wow, I haven’t ever thought about writing a sequel to this book but I appreciate the question because it makes me think you want to read more! I would certainly be interested in knowing what happens to both Amelia and Bobby over the next fifteen years. I have a feeling that Bobby will settle down with another partner at some point. Maybe he’ll even become a dad. As for Amelia, I think her life will be much calmer than it was when she was with Cam. She’ll live lower on the hog but she’ll be happier, more content. The problem is that happy and content lives aren’t always the most interesting to write about. So I wouldn’t hold your breath for a sequel, but I can promise you that there will be another novel from me. I’m working on it now!
*Special thanks to Susan Rebecca White for answering the questions and to Al for her help as well.
Susan Rebecca White is working on her next novel. For more information on Susan, please visit her website.
* Traveling With T’s review of A Place At The Table can be found here.