Alice Faye Duncan is a National Board Educator who writes books for children. Memory is her motivation. She writes to help students remember forgotten moments from American History. Her newest titles include Memphis, Martin and the Mountaintop, Opal Lee and What it Means to be Free and Evicted—The Struggle for the Right to Vote, which is a Junior Library Guild selection for 2022. Alice Faye has worked in the Memphis Schools for 29 years. Her September release is Yellow Dog Blues, a blues fable about love, loss, and good times in the Mississippi Delta.
What typically comes first for you: a character? An era? A story idea? How do you proceed from there?
The discovery of an event or a historical person arrives first. Most times this happens while visiting a museum or reading a newspaper, magazine, or book. For example, I met the Memphis photographer, Ernest Withers, in 2006. We were attending the same funeral. Afterwards, he invited me to his Beale Street studio to view his work and discuss my research on the Memphis Sanitation Strike of 1968. At the end of my visit, Withers gave me a book of his Civil Rights photographs. Within the pages, I found pictures of Black Tennessee famers in a field with their sad-faced children. These photographs inspired my recent book, Evicted!: The Struggle for the Right to Vote.
How do you conduct your research?
When writing about the past, I do my best to arrange interviews with people involved in the history. Or I search for personal contacts who know the historical figure that is the focus of my research. My recent book, Opal Lee and What it Means to Be Free is about the Texas grandmother who walked across the nation to encourage Congress to make Juneteenth a National Holiday. I had the good fortune to call and interview Opal Lee. With insight from this interview, I believe my book captures Opal Lee’s spirit of courage, determination, and joy.
Do you have a specific system for collecting data?
I believe my non-fiction and my historical fiction contain emotion and heart because I take time to find people, who can speak on the historical event as a primary source. What has served me best to this end, is the online “White Pages” phone book. Once I was researching and writing a book about Leonytyne Price. I found her brother’s number in the White Pages. He was very kind and allowed me to interview him. Nothing came of that book, but I made contact.
What kinds of sources do you use? The more specifics here, the better!
I use the online White Pages to locate contacts for interviews. I use ancestry.com to track the family history of my subjects. I use newspapers.com to locate article-clippings that interpret my subjects during the time in which they lived. Instead of library resources, I purchase a trove of books to support my research because I mark-up books and dog-ear them beyond recognition.
How long do you typically research before beginning to draft?
Books are like people. They each have their own personality and develop at their own pace. While my books range from 40 to 60 pages, some of them take ten years to write, like EVICTED, and some take ten months to write, like OPAL LEE AND WHAT IT MEANS TO BE FREE. Unless there is some prescribed deadline for me, the time required for writing a book is set in the stars. The essential thing is to KEEP WRITING. Don’t quit. The world needs your words. Write ON.
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I agree books come about at their own pace. Great interview!