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A Chat with Hillary Jordan

Article Published: Sep. 20, 2012 | Modified: Sep. 20, 2012

On Thursday, Oct. 4, three renowned writers and the senior editor of Algonquin Books will gather for a special event at the Broyhill Events Center on the campus of Appalachian State University.

Authors Barbara Kingsolver, Hillary Jordan and Naomi Benaron will join editor Kathie Pories for a conversation about literature, culture, politics and social issues.

The event is sponsored by Kingsolver and ASU’s Belk Library.

Both Jordan and Benaron are recent Bellwether Prize winners. Established by Kingsolver, the Bellwether Prize is given to debut novels that promote conscience, social responsibility and literary merit. Winning authors receive a $25,000 to help them further their writing careers.

Jordan received the 2008 Bellwether Prize for her debut novel, “Mudbound.” She has since then published “When She Woke,” a chilling tale of the near future where criminals are genetically dyed different colors to show the public what sorts of crimes they have committed. The story’s protagonist, Hannah, has been convicted of murder and has had her body completely changed to red.

The paperback edition of “When She Woke” was released by Algonquin Books this week. Editions of books by Jordan, Benaron and Kingsolver will be available at the ASU Bookstore, and the authors will meet with the public and sign copies of their books after the event at the Broyhill Events Center, formerly the Broyhill Inn & Conference Center, located at 775 Bodenheimer Drive on campus.
For more information on the event, call (828) 262-2186.

The Mountain Times caught up with Jordan to find out what goes on behind the writer’s door.

Mountain Times: How did winning the Bellwether Prize change your life?

Hillary Jordan: It was simply unbelievable. To have one of the best authors in the world in Barbara Kingsolver acknowledge my work was completely uplifting. I worked on “Mudbound” for six years, so to have it recognized by her really boosted my confidence as a writer. Plus, the $25,000 prize was extremely significant in allowing me to continue to write. I was pretty broke at the time. It has also been rewarding to get to know Barbara Kingsolver, who I can say is now my mentor. The acclaim for “Mudbound” and the Bellwether Prize also helped me sell “When She Woke.”

MT: How have fans of “Mudbound” received “When She Woke” so far?

HJ: I think most of them have enjoyed it, even though some people of faith might have trouble with some of its themes, such as abortion and lesbianism. I’ve had a lot of great responses from young women who feel the book is empowering.

MT: Has anyone approached you about turning your books into movies?

HJ: That’s interesting, because I try to write very cinematically. “Mudbound” has been optioned and is currently being turned into a screenplay, which is very exciting. With “When She Woke,” I’ve had a nibble that didn’t turn into anything. I think Hollywood is afraid of anything controversial, especially if it deals with abortion or lesbian love affairs.

MT: You wrote “When She Woke” last year. This year, there has been a lot said in the news about abortion and women who have been raped being compelled to carry their pregnancy to term. Do you think the society that you portray in the novel is coming to light?

HJ: I think there are certain elements of our society who feel like they know what is best for everyone, even for people who do not share their beliefs.

MT: What are you writing now?

HJ: I am working on a novel that is kind of a sequel to “Mudbound.” One of its central characters, Ronsel Jackson, is an African American who served overseas during World War II. While over there, he impregnates a white German woman. The new book is the story of what happens to their child. I also have a digital short, called “Aftermirth,” that will be released by Algonquin Sept. 18. It is available for Kindles and other e-readers.

For more information about Hillary Jordan, visit

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