By Carla Newsome McManus
In her sophomore novel, The Sisterhood of Blackberry Corner,
Andrea Smith, recipient of fellowships from the Frederick Douglass Creative Arts Center and The New York Council on the Arts, weaves a compelling and heartwarming Southern tale of sisterhood,
family and love. But, don’t let the sleepy town in South Carolina where the story takes place catch you off guard! This captivating story serves up a delicious side of downhome drama that will keep you turning the pages. So grab a refreshing glass of sweetened iced tea and enjoy The Sisterhood of Blackberry corner!
What was your inspiration for writing 'The Sisterhood of Blackberry
Andrea Smith: My inspiration was a conversation that I had with my grandmother
when I was about twelve.
I remember that an adopted girl had moved onto our block in Brooklyn.
I was so curious about adoption and
asked my grandmother all kinds of questions about adoption agencies
and foster kids, etc. My grandmother just waved her hand and said,
"in my day, if a child need a home, we just take 'em to the church
and the child would have a home."
I remember thinking, at twelve years old, that it couldn't be that easy.
But my grandmother insisted that in the south,
back in the day, that's the way things were done. I guess this always stayed with me.
Why did you decide to title the book 'The Sisterhood of Blackberry Corner'?
Andrea Smith: I wanted to find a title that gave the feeling of something secretive and underground.
Carla McManus: Are there situations or characters in the book that represent your life experiences?
Andrea Smith: I think that all of the experiences represent my life experiences(or people that I know).
I write a lot about my grandparents, maternal and paternal. For instance, my first book, Friday Nights At Honeybee's...my paternal grandmother was Miss Honeybee.
Carla McManus: Did you interview any people to develop the book's characters?
Andrea Smith: I did have to speak with attorneys and social workers about the legal ramifications of Bonnie's actions.
Carla McManus: Which book did you most enjoy writing, The Sisterhood of Blackberry
Corner or Friday Night at Honeybee's?
Andrea Smith: They are both such different books that it's hard to say. Whatever I write, whether it's
a novel or a short story, I always start with a
certain type of music in my head. For 'Honeybee's" it was jazz. For
the "Sisterhood," it was blues and gospel. I love all these types of
music equally and mostly depends on my mood at the time.
Carla McManus: Is there a specific message or moral that you would like for readers of 'The Sisterhood of Blackberry Corner' to learn?
Andrea Smith: My family is the most important thing in my life. And I guess, if there was a conscious message, it would be about tending to family and
community and what happens when a man or woman drops that ball, even for
Have you considered writing other genres of literature?
Andrea Smith: This question makes me laugh because, for a moment I wanted to jump onto the "street fiction" bandwagon.
Just for the money, mind you. So I tried to write this draft of a street fiction novel. What a disaster.
The lesson...write what you know. Also, write for love and not just for money. It usually doesn't work!
Carla McManus: Why did you decide to pursue a career in writing?
I can't see myself doing anything else. I can't even type very fast!!!
Carla McManus: Did you have any role models or mentors to help you along the way in your writing career.
Andrea Smith: Some years ago, I won a grant from the Frederick Douglass Center in New York (where I'm from). At that time
I was introduced to a very talented writer named Arthur Flowers. He has since been my mentor and
without his help I'm sure that I would not be published. He helped me with my first draft and also introduced me to my agent, who sold my book.
Carla McManus: Are you reading any books now?
Andrea Smith: Unfortunately I can't read and write at the same time. So, once or twice a year, I take a bit of time from writing and I read.
Carla McManus: Do you have any favorite authors?
Gloria Naylor is my all time favorite. I love her. Also, Isabelle
Allende, Amy Tam, of course Ms. Morrison and Chinua Achebe, just to name
About The Sisterhood of Blackberry
In a small black town in South Carolina in the 1950s, Bonnie Wilder is happily
married to Nazareth but longs for a child. When her husband and his fishing
buddies come upon a dead baby in a nearby river, shy Bonnie stands up at a
community meeting and speaks up for the possible anguish of the mother. Surely
there needed to be outlets for women who didn't want or couldn't raise their
children. Soon she becomes the recipient of abandoned babies left on her
doorstep. But Naz won't hear of raising another man's child, so Bonnie and a
few friends, most prominently her brash girlhood friend Thora, develop a secret
network to match abandoned babies with childless families. The women enjoy
their surreptitious and blessed work even as the sheriff issues warnings.
Thirty years later, an adopted woman--now married and pregnant with her first
child--wants to know about her mother, and Bonnie is forced to recall the
personal cost she paid for her mission. Smith's deftly drawn characters exude
the warmth and intimacy of a small town. Vanessa Bush
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Canaan Creek, South Carolina, in the 1950s is a tiny town where the close-knit
African-American community is united by long-term friendships and church ties.
Bonnie Wilder has lived here, on Blackberry Corner, all her life, and would be
content but for her deep desire to have a child. She and her husband Naz cannot
conceive, and he refuses to adopt. Even the support of her outrageous best
friend Thora–to whom Bonnie tells everything–can’t help fill the emptiness
Then Naz finds a blanketed infant on the banks of Canaan Creek, and suddenly
Bonnie’s life is transformed. She has found her calling. Together with Thora
and the rest of the hilarious, tough, and all-too-human women from her church
group, Bonnie creates an underground railroad for unwanted babies. But one of
these precious gifts will come back to haunt her: a deception begun in good
faith comes full circle, ultimately forcing Bonnie to find the courage to
confront a difficult truth at the center of her own life.
Filled with compassion, humor, and tenacity in the face of almost
insurmountable odds, here is a rich, inspiring tale of friendship and family,
sisterhood and mother love…and of finding grace where you least expect it.