“With Mourner’s Bench, Sanderia Faye announces herself as a bold, at times intoxicating, original voice in American fiction. This is a stunning début.”

Dennis Lehane, author of Gone Baby Gone, Mystic River, & Shutter Island

At the First Baptist Church of Maeby, Arkansas, the sins of the child belonged to the parents until the child turned thirteen. Sarah Jones was only eight years old in the summer of 1964, but with her mother Esther Mae on eight prayer lists and flipping around town with the generally mistrusted civil rights organizers, Sarah believed it was time to get baptized and take responsibility for her own sins. That would mean sitting on the mourner’s bench come revival, waiting for her sign, and then testifying in front of the whole church. But first, Sarah would need to navigate the growing tensions of small-town Arkansas in the 1960s. Both smarter and more serious than her years (a “fifty-year-old mind in an eight-year-old body,” according to Esther), Sarah was torn between the traditions, religion, and work ethic of her community and the progressive civil rights and feminist politics of her mother, who had recently returned from art school in Chicago. When organizers from the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) came to town just as the revival was beginning, Sarah couldn’t help but be caught up in the turmoil. Most folks just wanted to keep the peace, and Reverend Jefferson called the SNCC organizers “the evil among us.” But her mother, along with local civil rights activist Carrie Dilworth, the SNCC organizers, Daisy Bates, attorney John Walker, and indeed most of the country, seemed determined to push Maeby toward integration. With characters as vibrant and evocative as their setting, Mourner’s Bench is the story of a young girl coming to terms with religion, racism, and feminism while also navigating the terrain of early adolescence and trying to settle into her place in her family and community. Mourner’s Bench portrays real-life historical Arkansas individuals whose participation was vital to the march to freedom. The novel explains the conflict between rural southern church members and African American women who took leadership positions in the movement. It was important for Faye as a native of the region where the novel is based, to accurately portray Arkansas Delta women who challenged societies’ norms to improve life for future generations.

“Reading [this] story, no matter what you believe history might have taught us since, you feel as if the questions of racial justice are not only unresolved but barely yet asked.”

Kevin Brockmeier, author of The Brief History of the Dead

Mourner’s Bench rings historically and emotionally true… The participants of the freedom struggle Faye describes are not one-dimensional heroes but rather multifaceted human beings who are forced to balance their activism alongside the challenges of family life and obligations. … This compelling novel will appeal to literary enthusiasts and history buffs alike.”
—Jennifer Jensen Wallach
Mourner’s Bench should be mandatory reading for those seeking understanding of this part of the civil rights struggle. Sanderia’s deft touch in creating her characters makes her novel accessible to wide audiences on multiple levels. ...Surely Mourner’s will become a classic selection for higher education. 
—Dr. April Burris

“Brilliantly written, Mourner’s Bench takes the reader back to 1960s small-town Arkansas and tells a story about the public, and private, ways that black and white people worked for or resisted change. A powerful, brilliant book.”

—Vivienne Schiffer, Camp Nine: A Novel


Sanderia Faye serves on the faculty at Southern Methodist University, is an instructor at the 2017 Desert Nights Rising Stars Conference at Arizona State University, and a professional speaker and activist. Her novel, Mourner’s Bench, is the winner of the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award in debut fiction and The Philosophical Society of Texas
Award of Merit for fiction. She is co-founder and a fellow at Kimbilio Center for Fiction, and her work has appeared in the anthology Arsnick: The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in Arkansas. Faye moderated the grassroots panel for the
Arkansas Civil Rights Symposium during the Freedom Riders 50th Anniversary and is coordinating the first AWP African Diaspora Caucus.

Her work received “Best Of” honors at the 2011 Eckerd College Writers’ Conference, Co-Directors Dennis Lehane and Sterling Watson, where her winning excerpt from the novel was published in SABAL Literary Journal. She received grants and scholarships offers from Hurston/Wright Writers Conference, Eckerd College Writers’ in Paradise Conference, Callaloo Writers Workshop, and Vermont, Writers Studio. She attended The Writers’ Colony at Dairy Hollow and Martha’s Vineyard Writers Residency.

She holds an MFA from Arizona State University, a MA from the University of Texas at Dallas, a BS in Accounting from the University of Arkansas. She is currently a PhD student in English at the University of North Texas.


UNT English doctoral student wins prestigious Legacy Award

DENTON (UNT), Texas – Sanderia Faye, University of North Texas Ph.D. student in English, has won the nation’s top honor for a debut novel by an African American writer – the Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Foundation 2016 Legacy Award.

Faye earned the honor in the Debut Fiction category for her book Mourner’s Bench (University of Arkansas Press), a novel about a woman who gets caught up in the 1960s civil rights movement as told by her 8-year-old daughter. The book is inspired by her love of Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird which often made her ask herself, “What if Scout Finch was African American? What would that story be?”

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Mourner’s Bench Nominated for the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award

The Hurston/Wright Legacy Award TM honors the best in Black literature in the United States and around the globe. Introduced in 2001, the Legacy Award was the first national award presented to Black writers by a national organization of Black writers. Fiction, nonfiction and poetry honorees are selected in a juried competition. Merit awards are given at the discretion of the Board of Directors. Each October, the award winners are celebrated during a gala that draws hundreds of literary stars, readers, and representatives of the publishing industry, the arts, media, politics, and academia.

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Sanderia Portrait
Mourner's Bench Cover


Many of us have stories about our personal journey during the turbulent era of the Civil Rights Movement, specifically, while fighting for the right to vote. Please take a moment to share your past and present stories, memories, and photographs. Also, feel free to join in on the discussion of this very important topic.

All the best- Sanderia Faye

Summer Vacations in the South

When I was a young child in the late 60s, I remember our summer vacation road trips to visit my Grandparents in Saline, Louisiana and Tyler, Texas. Our entire family – aunts, uncles, cousins – all drove from southern California down south. We had an awesome time with...
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White School

I attended the all white school during first grade under the Freedom of Choice Act in 1966. All of the black kids were retained. Didn’t any of us pass to the second grade. The following year the schools were de-segregated. I was a year behind my previous...
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