The Wheeler Centre
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Debut novels announcing the arrival of fresh, young talents are often praised for their capacity to dazzle. Freshly anointed literary darlings are ‘brilliant’, ‘precocious’ and ‘virtuosic’.
But such descriptions don’t exactly fit with 26-year-old Californian author Brit Bennett, whose stirring first novel, The Mothers, is remarkable not for its flashy prose or clever metanarrative manoeuvres but for its restrained eloquence.
This idea that art can be divorced from the politics, I don’t believe that.
Bennett’s protagonist, 17-year-old Nadia, lives in a conservative black Christian community in Southern California. The Mothers is a story that navigates both familiar coming-of-age fare (stifling small-town life, evolving friendships, vocation) and complex moral terrain (abortion, suicide, religion) with subtlety, intelligence and wry humour.
Bennett’s talents have seen her rise in demand as an essayist, too. Her non-fiction work, much of which has centred on American racial politics and identity, has appeared in the New Yorker, the New York Times and the Paris Review.
In conversation with Emily Sexton, Bennett talks about the duties of writers, the politics of art, the burdens of identity, and The Mothers.