“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

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sanderia Fayewas born and raised in Gould, Arkansas. She serves on the creative writing faculty at Southern Methodist University. Faye is the author of Mourner’s Bench (University of Arkansas Press, September 2015-peer reviewed). The novel is the winner of the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award in debut fiction. Her work has appeared in various literary journals and in Arsnick: The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in Arkansas, edited by historians Dr. Jennifer Wallach and Dr. John Kirk. Faye is co-founder and fellow at Kimbilio Center for Fiction. She moderated a 2015 AWP panel and the grassroots panel for the Arkansas Civil Rights Symposium during the Freedom Riders 50th Anniversary. She is a recipient of awards, residencies, and fellowships from Hurston/Wright Writers Conference, Eckerd College’s Writers in Paradise Conference, Callaloo Writers Workshop, Vermont, Writers Studio, The Writers’ Colony at Dairy Hollow, and Martha’s Vineyard Writers Residency. Faye is also a PhD student in English at North Texas University. She received an MFA in Creative Writing from Arizona State University, and a BS in Accounting from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. She was an instructor for The United States Navy-Navy College Program for Afloat College Education (NCPACE). She is a public speaker for Books In Common.

 

 

NEWS

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
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SHARE YOUR STORY…

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

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