I’ve wanted to write stories since my parents gave me a drugstore journal with a lock and key for my seventh birthday. Born in Maine and raised in New Jersey, I got my first writing gig telling other people’s stories as an obituary clerk at my hometown paper. Since then, my essays have appeared in The New York Times, the NAACP’s blog, and Brain,Child magazine. The latter caught NPR’s attention and I discussed it on their Boston-based show, “Here and Now.” My fiction has won grants from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and Women Who Write’s fiction contest. I’ve also received numerous fellowships to the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts for my novel and my family history project in progress. Prior to freelance and fiction writing I was a newspaper and television journalist and earned a New Jersey Press Association award. I also worked briefly as an actress and although I didn’t win any awards, I did get to kiss Ugly Betty star, Eric Mabius.
MY FAMILY HISTORY
Josephine Burton Ford was my great grandmother. My search for her and the rest of my family history began at age 12, when I asked a simple question: “Grandpa, are you white?” My grandfather’s answer sent me on a lifelong journey to piece together our family story and reveal a not uncommon but often untold part of American history. His grandparents were a slave named Tempy Burton and her master, Col. W. R. Stuart, pictured in the header. Three decades after I first learned of this interracial, Civil War-era duo, I found another one of their descendants. Monique, my third cousin, once removed, is as passionate about our history as I am. Together, we’ve been reclaiming our family’s history which includes masters and slaves, Confederates and Senators, preachers and entertainers. Follow our journey at www.findingjosephine.com.
In the summer of 1985, 16 year-old Ondine Grant heads to Brazil determined to forget her narcissistic mother, alcoholic father and her New Jersey neighborhood and classrooms where she is the only black kid. Not even Brazil’s rich African culture or the warmth of her host family are an antidote – why does she continue to feel alone? Why does she still pick at her skin?
The closer Ondine gets to answering these questions the more she threatens to ruin her idyllic reinvented life with her host family, the Bissacos and her sugarcane heir boyfriend, Claudio. After too many caipirihnas, she ends up in another man’s arms on the glitzy tourist beaches of Rio shrouded by poverty-stricken hills. After too much skin-picking, she’s hospitalized in Bahia, a state steeped in African tradition within a country swimming in racism. Brazil’s paradoxes illuminate Ondine’s old wounds, the deepest of all the incest with her real brother back home echoed by mounting sexual tensions with her host brother, Eduardo. To truly determine her future, she has to embrace her past, which makes Ondine’s step into adulthood as complex and hopeful as Brazil’s concurrent shift to democracy after 30 years of military rule.