Anna Jean (A.J.) Mayhew, a native of Charlotte, North Carolina, has never lived outside the state, although she often travels to Europe with her Swiss-born husband. Much of A.J.s work reflects her vivid memories of growing up in the segregated South. A.J. has been a member of the same writing group since 1987, is a writer-in-residence at The Weymouth Center for the Arts & Humanities, and is a former member of the Board of Trustees of the North Carolina Writers' Network. The Dry Grass of August is her first novel.
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Was there any one thing that compelled you to write the novel?
In 1957 something happened that changed the way I saw things; thirty years passed before I could write about the feelings it evoked in me. I was seventeen, working as a lifeguard during the summer, and had a deep tan (my hair was bleached almost white by the sun, and my eyes are pale blue; theres no mistaking my Caucasian genes). When the color line was removed from the Charlotte city buses, my parents told me that if one of them (a person of color) got on the bus and sat next to me, I should get off or at least move to another seat. One day a black woman sat down beside me and my parents words flashed through my mind. But I felt riveted to my seat, like it would have been so rude to move. So I sat there and eventually looked down to where our arms rested side by side. My skin was a lot darker than hers. That made a lasting impression on me.
How long did it take you to write your novel?
Eighteen years from conception to final draft; while I wrote, I was working full time as well, but I believe the novel would have taken me many years, regardless of the circumstances. It had to percolate, to find its center, and I had to be patient...
Blood at the Root
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