Brit Bennett’s last novel, “The Vanishing Half,” begins in 1968 in a small southern town called Mallard.
Mallard is common in many ways: it’s a sleepy community where locals chatter at restaurants and indulge in vacation picnics, where they marry old classmates and tend to stick around – except that Mallard is home exclusively to fair-skinned blacks.
While the city is fictitious, the concept is not.
“The idea for the book came from my mother, who was originally from Louisiana,” Bennett said. “She was telling me about these types of cities that were very obsessed with skin color. I grew up in Oceanside, so it was something that I felt was very mythological.
After confirming the existence of these towns, Bennett made them the backdrop for “The Vanishing Half,” a story set in the past that addresses modern themes of racism, colorism, LGBT identity and socio-economic privileges.
They are twin sisters leading very different adult lives – one as a black woman in the South and the other as a white woman in a wealthy suburb of Los Angeles.
“Part of what was so absurd to me was the idea that race is something that can determine so many material realities in our lives, but at the same time it’s so fragile, that this woman just turned white. because someone thought she was, ”says Bennett.
Released in June 2020, “The Vanishing Half” has reached the top of the New York Times bestseller list and is in the process of being turned into an HBO special, which Bennett is executive producing.
Releasing a book at the height of a global pandemic was a surreal experience, Bennett said, as her success changed her life, but her daily life did not immediately change.
Bennett is still hesitant to accept recognition (she finds it embarrassing to see strangers reading her books in public), but she appreciates it too.
“When you’re a writer, you just hope someone who doesn’t know you buys the book. You know your mom is going to read it or your friends are going to read it, ”she said. “I didn’t expect the fervor and enthusiasm for this book. It blew me away in every way.
Learn about Bennett’s writing process, her quarantine hobbies, and the things she’s into now that have nothing to do with literature in this week’s episode of Name Drop San Diego.
The interview was originally conducted in conjunction with the San Diego Union-Tribune Festival of Books. Hear it in the player above, watch the original interview, and read more about Brit Bennett and “The Vanishing Half” in this Union-Tribune story from Seth Combs.