One Book Read Author to Give Online Presentation for WKCTC
West Kentucky Community and Technical College's One Book Read culminates tonight, March 30th, with a virtual discussion led by The Gone Dead author, Chanelle Benz. Benz speaks with Tracy Ross about the book and upcoming presentation.
From the WKCTC website:
"Benz's debut award-winning novel delves into race, justice, and memory, revealing old buried wounds of a family, a community, and country. Main character Billie James is a young woman who learns her past is not what it seems, and she feels compelled to uncover what really happened."
"When I set out to write the book," Benz begins, "I felt like it was a book I had to write. It was something that had been bothering me for a long time about unsolved murders, justice, impunity, things that are never investigated. I feel like when we think about something that's an injustice, we think about a perpetrator twiddling their mustache. It has to do with finding the villain, finding the killer."
"But it's much more complicated than that," she continues. "It's about people who enable this to happen. It's about what happens before historically and what happens after. It's about all of the circumstances and forces that make it possible for somebody to commit a racially motivated killing and for that to never be brought to justice. I think the country is very interested in talking about the larger circumstances now and not reducing it to 'whodunnit.'"
The Gone Dead begins with Billie returning to her hometown in the Mississippi Delta for the first time in thirty years. She inherits a small amount of money and a rundown shack from her father, a well-known Black poet who died unexpectedly when she was four years old. Benz says that the book's setting was integral to the story.
"Mississippi is sometimes the butt of a joke...somewhat reviled and misnamed. I think the Delta is a lush place in the Deep South where the landscape is beautifully green and has some of the most fertile soil. At the same time, it's desolate. There are lots of abandoned houses and farms and little towns that are just vestiges of what they once were. I think because of the poverty, you don't have people tearing buildings down and putting up new complexes. What was is still standing."
"When I was there, I felt like history was in the air," Benz continues. "It's palpable. You can feel it. Down this road, it's 1890; up this road, it's 1931. I feel like it's a place that is also very storied. People who live there are storytellers, and they've also lived there for generations, so their lives and histories are ever intertwined with each other. I think the story really is about the Mississippi Delta, the Deep South, so it had to be placed there."
Britton Shurley, WKCTC's One Book Read's selection committee co-chair, told WKCTC that The Gone Dead was selected "for its complex portrayal of race relations, family, and culture in American history. This novel opens conversations for both students and community members for discussing, and better understanding, these important issues in society."
Benz will host a virtual discussion of The Gone Dead on Tuesday, March 30th, at 6 pm CST on WKCTC's Facebook page and Youtube channel. The presentation for WKCTC students will be held via Microsoft Teams on March 31st at 11 am. Benz will read excerpts from the book and discuss place, history, and how the two intersect with our present moment.