How the Story of a Black Texas Frontiersman Shaped This Shortlisted Novel

“His story was so compelling that I just felt I had to write his story in a fictional form.”

By Sunny SoneOctober 12, 2016 12:45 pm,

It seems like people who move to Texas are just as – if not more – loyal than those born and bred in the Lone Star State. Author Paulette Jiles can attest to that – she was born in Missouri, lived and worked in Canada, and moved to Texas twenty years ago, but most of her latest books pay tribute to the state’s diverse landscapes and rich history.

Jiles recently came out with a new novel, a western called “News of the World.” The characters wander around post-Civil War era Texas, giving Jiles a chance to show off extensive historical research and lyrical descriptions of the countryside. “News of the World” was shortlisted for the National Book Award last week.

Jiles, a Missouri-born author and poet, talks about the National Book Award and why she writes about the South.

On finding out about the National Book Award shortlist:

“I almost dropped the phone and passed out. And my editor at HarperCollins didn’t even know, and he wasn’t told until the next morning, so it was a little confusing, but in the end I was very happy, of course.”

On what drew her to the story behind “News of the World:”

“I had read onto the story of Britt Johnson, who was a black frontiersman, an African-American frontiersman. His story – he’s a historical character, he’s nonfictional – his story was so compelling that I just felt I had to write his story in a fictional form. So that led me to what’s called the Red Rolling Plains of Texas, and the various forks in the Red, which are very famous.”

On why so many of her books are centered on the South:

“Creative writing teachers tell people to write what you know, and I don’t think that’s quite true. You should write what you love. You can always find out and come to know things simply by research. So I’m from the Missouri Ozarks and I feel very fortunate to come from there, to come from a culture that really emphasizes singing and storytelling. That’s where my heart lies, and that’s what I love.”