Tracy Chevalier

 

My latest novel, New Boy, is a retelling of Othello set in an American school in the 1970s with a cast of 11 year olds. It's published in the US, UK and Canada in May 2017.

My last novel, At the Edge of the Orchard, about a dysfunctional pioneer family on the American frontier, is now out in paperback.

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Welcome to my writing world. Here you can discover more about me and what I do: books, events, interviews, future projects. Put the kettle on and pull up a chair.

You can download the Book Club Kit for New Boy on the Hogarth Press website here

 

Like most students, my own school playground experience was at times fraught. Unusually, I grew up in an integrated neighborhood in 1960s and 1970s Washington DC, and went to a school where the majority of the students were black. So I knew what it was like to walk onto a playground where my skin color was different from many of the others, and the tension that could cause.

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I chose to set New Boy in 1974, when I – and my characters – was 11 years old and in my last year of elementary school. At that age kids are on the verge of adolescence – that strange period when they begin imitating adult behavior without actually being adults. The main characters simply go through the motions of romance (which is how I’ve always felt about Othello and Desdemona anyway), but the real drama is in how someone different from everyone else is treated.

Unfortunately racism has always been prevalent in the US. From slavery onwards, African-Americans have long been discriminated against. The Civil Rights Movement sought racial equality in the 1950s. The more militant Black Power Movement grew in the late 1960s and into the 1970s and, interwoven with the slowly declining Vietnam 

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War and the Watergate scandal, made the year of 1974 less stable than its culture full of bellbottoms and big hair might indicate.

Two years ago I was asked by Hogarth Press to take part in their Shakespeare Project, in which writers are invited to write a novel inspired by a Shakespeare play. I chose Othello, for its timeless themes of jealousy and discrimination. I like writing about outsiders.

For once, I did not have to make up a story or characters; I simply had to choose the setting and adapt the story to it. Where in the world can you find passion, jealousy, discrimination, and betrayal, all in one intense place? Why, look no further than a school playground.

One day diplomat’s son Osei Kokote walks on to an all-white playground – his fourth school in as many years. He knows he needs an ally if he is to survive his first day – so he’s lucky to hit it off with Dee, the most popular girl in school. But one student can’t stand to witness this budding relationship: Ian decides to destroy the friendship between the black boy and the golden girl.

The tragedy of Othello is transposed to a 1970s suburban Washington schoolyard, where kids fall in and out of love before lunchtime and practice a casual racism picked up from the adults around them. By the end of the day, the school and its key players – teachers and pupils alike – will never be the same again.

If you'd like to read an excerpt of New Boy, Shakespeare's Globe theatre in London have posted one here on their blog.

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Tracy on Mary Anning

Great Lives on BBC Radio 4 
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Shakespeare in DC

On turning Othello into a playground drama
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Kickstarter Campaign

Video about The Sleep Quilt book

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