St. Albert Gazette: One of the most powerful Alberta writers of this decade will be a special guest at STARFest Conversations on Sunday.

Theresa Shea, a historical fiction novelist, will discuss her latest book, The Shade Tree, winner of Canada’s Guernica Literary Prize. This blistering indictment of the Jim Crow era deals with topics of systemic racism, slavery, feminism and the destructive strictures of society.

“I always wanted to write a book with characters I would want to go back and read. In fiction, you see what they think within the context of the world they live in. Sometimes, you understand why they do what they do,” said Shea.

The Edmonton-based author has a doctorate in literature, and wrote the novel over a 10-year period using every tool available including YouTube to develop an understanding of character and circumstance.

“I hope it blows up the myth that when slavery was abolished, it was fine. It wasn’t.”

From the start, The Shade Tree follows the lives of three southern women living in Florida and later Washington from 1930 to 1963. Sisters Ellie and Mavis are entitled daughters of a white orchard owner. The third is Sliver, a Black midwife who lives on a more affluent neighbouring farm.

Ellie, the older sister, is “smart, beautiful, bored and devious.” She lies about a sexual relationship with a Black man and he is lynched. Recognizing her power as a white woman, she develops a pattern of sexually exploiting Black men.

“She sees what goes on – white men helping themselves to Black women. But she gets caught, is separated and sent away,” said Shea.

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