One of the highlights of writing historical fiction is my work with primary sources. Analyzing first-hand material from a specific period helps me to formulate questions that illuminate the story I'm trying to tell. Properly integrated into the story, primary sources have the power to transport a reader to another time and place. In writing Jam on the Vine, I drew on a plethora of sources like those you'd find in any history museum: material culture (clothing and furniture), photographs, newspaper articles, audio recordings and sheet music, letters, speeches, memoir and other manuscripts, like historical cookbooks. Below you'll find everything from a sharecropping contract to music and recipes; the poetry of Paul Laurence Dunbar, and newspaper articles--some of the sources placed at the interpretive center of my characters' lives. Many served as launch pads into character action. Some were invaluable building blocks for the characters themselves. --LaShonda Katrice Barnett
CHAPTER ONE: JUBA (September, 1897) Above is the newspaper article that prompts Ivoe to steal the newspaper from the Starks' home in the first scene of Jam on the Vine. For primary source enthusiasts, read the entire article here.
CHAPTER TWO: LOVE, A CURIOUS THING (October, 1897) Her husband's not working and her boy's not long back to work after illness, but Lemon's keeping her family afloat with the sell of her tomato jam, chowchow and other preservatives. Recipes to the left.
CHAPTER THREE: COMPANY E (April, 1898) In getting to know my character May-Belle, I had to increase my knowledge of the natural world--19th century homeopathic remedies, herbs and the vast world of medicinal teas.
CHAPTER FOUR: HOOD, BONNET, and LITTLE BROWN JUG (June, 1905) To understand the sharecropping system described by May-Belle (who, along with Ivoe's grandparents, is spared the toil of the field for "inside work" such as cooking and metalsmithing), I read sharecropping contracts like this one from 1882, which favors the interest of the landowner.
CHAPTER FIVE: GUILLOTINE (September, 1905) Ivoe listens to Berdis Peets play Tom Turpin's "The Buffalo Rag."
CHAPTER SIX: GUILLOTINE (September, 1906) Sometimes you get lucky and a single article or two can drop a seed of inspiration, and an entire chapter flowers. Such was the case after reading "Negro Boycotts of Jim Crow Streetcars in Tennessee."
CHAPTER SEVEN: TO WALK IN SILK ATTIRE and HAVE SILVER TO SPARE (June, 1907) Images like the following of Texas convict laborers helped me to imagine the ways in which Ivoe's surroundings change when a prison farm develops in Little Tunis.
CHAPTER 9: IN THE GLOAMING (June, 1911) This chapter was inspired by the poem "In the Gloaming" (1874) by Meta Orred. (Ona gives Ivoe a collection of Orred's poetry, A Dream Alphabet, for her graduation present.)
CHAPTER 10: MONKEY WOMAN BLUES (August, 1911) and CHAPTER 11: MEDITATIONS (October, 1916) As the Williams family prepare to leave their old home in the Brazos River Valley, the creator of their world, the author, must consult a map of their new home to get a feel for the lay of the land that is the West Bottoms of Kansas City, Missouri (and, later for Ivoe, the Vine Street district to which the vast majority of Black Kansas City life laid claim). If you look to the left, you'll find their new street: Mulberry.
CHAPTER 14: OAK AND IVY (July, 1918) I've been reading and memorizing the poetry of Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906) since I was a third grader. In this collection, his first (1892), I found so much inspiration: the title holds the perfect metaphor for the love of Ona and Ivoe. The poetry itself evokes a strong sentiment of African American life in the Jim Crow era, as seen in poems like "Sympathy" which contains the line: I know why the caged bird sings. In Chapter 14, Ivoe reads "A Negro Love Song" from a later Dunbar volume, Lyrics of Lowly Life, published in 1896 and found here. Below, a wonderful recitation of "A Negro Love Song" by Ms. Hope Smith.
CHAPTER 15: JAM ON THE VINE (August, 1918) Two trailblazing black women journalists inspired my Ivoe Williams, the heroine of Jam on the Vine : Ida B. Wells (l.) [1862-1931] and Charlotta Bass (r.) [1874-1969]. Driven by the (lynching) murders of black male friends, Wells, who wrote for the New York Age newspaper, began investigative journalism that documented lynchings and their causes, most notably in her own monographs Southern Horrors (1892) and The Red Record (1895). Bass was a suffragist and the first black woman to own and operate a newspaper, the California Eagle, from 1913 to 1951. The newspaper Ivoe founds, Jam on the Vine, is a fictional one inspired by Kansas City's black newspaper The Call, going strong since 1919!
CHAPTER 16: BROTHER, WHERE ARE YOU? (SEPTEMBER, 1918) Occasionally, a source from a different time period inspires historical action. Repeated listening to Abbey Lincoln's 1959 recording, "Brother, Where Are You?" (Oscar Brown Jr.) led me down a path of exploring Ivoe's relationship to Timbo, Timbo's relationship to his world, and the general status and danger of black activists, women and men, in America during the first quarter of the 20th century. Not surprisingly, the emotive quality of Lincoln's civil rights ballad is also evocative of the Jim Crow era.
CHAPTER 17: CASEY'S ROW (September, 1917) The article above was taken from the Omaha World-Herald (September 29, 1919), recounting the September 28, 1919 mob lynching of African American man, William Brown, the true incident that informed chapter seventeen. In his memoirs, actor Henry Fonda recalled watching the lynching (as a 12-year-old boy) from the window across the street from the courthouse, his father's printing shop.
CHAPTER 18: NEODESHA (September 1921) Years prior to writing Jam, I read Nell Irvin Painter's EXODUSTERS: Black Migration to Kansas After Reconstruction and it stayed with me. I returned to Painter's work in shaping the character of Ennis and Ennis's trajectory in the novel. Like the finest secondary history sources, Painter's book draws on a multitude of primary sources. Other secondary sources that I consulted for Jam include Farah Jasmine Griffin's Beloved Sisters and Loving Friends; Stephanie Shaw's What A Woman Ought To Be and Do; William Shack's Harlem In Montmartre; Charles E. Coulter's Take Up the Black Man's Burden; Charles A. Simmons's The African American Press and others.
CHAPTER 19: HOLDING BACK THE RIVER WITH A BROOM (October, 1921) The unjust behavior (and legal protection) of rogue police officers, as witnessed in the recent non-indictments of (former) officer Darren Wilson, Michael Brown's killer, and Daniel Pantaleo, Eric Garner's killer, has historic roots, pre-dating the Jim Crow era. However, the disproportionate incarceration rates of African American men can be directly traced to the post-Reconstruction proliferation of the prison industrial complex, a crisis that continues to plague black America according to the 2013 Report of The Sentencing Project to the United Nations Human Rights Committee, which states that if current incarceration "trends continue, one of every three black American males born today can expect to go to prison in his lifetime."
CHAPTER 20: LE TUMULTE NOIR (May, 1925) The final chapter was aided in no small part by Paul Colin's lithographs. The images, the post-WW1 "le jazz hot" and my own "research" trips to Paris (specifically, the time spent in Montmartre) enabled me to achieve a 1920s feel for Ivoe and Ona's Paris. The song below is the tune to which our lovebirds share a dance--Isabella Patricola's "Somebody Loves Me" (music, George Gershwin, lyrics, Ballard MacDonald and Buddy DeSylva, 1924).