I began receiving texts from friends as soon as Hurricane Harvey was named. And then, I started to receive messages from strangers via social media. This was not entirely uncommon. Ever since the release of my debt novel, The Truth About Awiti, readers and students want to discuss the theory that restless slave spirits are embodied in the winds of hurricanes. This theory came about because many hurricane winds start off the coast of West Africa, gain momentum as they cross the Atlantic, often following the same route as slave ships during the Middle Passage, and they generally make landfall in the Caribbean and southern states. I am often tagged in photos that visually depict this theory and in interviews by the late Dick Gregory, who strongly believed this theory was “truth.” Once Hurricane Harvey made landfall, the messages began to intensify.
A teacher reached out. “My class wants to know what’s the historical connection with Hurricane Harvey?” She asked. I remembered her class well. They had enjoyed reading The Truth About Awiti and were fascinated by the theory of spiritual retribution, both for present day injustices as well as historical ones. I told her to share a recent Washington Post article, “Seeking justice for the mass hanging of black soldiers after the bloody 1917 Houston riots.” She thanked me, and I shared the article with a few other curious readers. And the messages continued.
I thought it best to address my thoughts in a Facebook post, noting that hurricanes and the destruction they leave are heartbreaking, and that writing The Truth About Awiti was painful. I also asked readers to remember that Awiti is a work of historical fantasy/fiction. “Although I’m truly honored that I’ve convinced some of y’all that she’s real – smile,” I wrote. Many of the replies were the same – “No, Awiti is real.”
Yesterday, I received questions about a possible historical connection to Barbuda, an Eastern Caribbean island, that was destroyed by Hurricane Irma. “Research the Codrington brothers,” I said. “It is believed they developed a human stock farm, a ‘stud farm,’ a slave breeding program. It’s rumored they bred slaves that were at a minimum of 6’2″.” All the while, I made certain to remind readers of the sadness and destruction, regardless of the historical justification for theoretical slave rage. “It’s so sad that every generation has to suffer for past injustices,” a reader responded.
Since the formation of Hurricane Harvey, I’ve watched sales for The Truth About Awiti increase, including having my ebook and paperback return to Amazon’s Best Sellers List for African American Historical Fiction. Despite what one might think, it is not a good feeling. Having survived Hurricane Andrew at a local shelter, I can assure you, despite the memes you might see about water shortages and dwindling food supplies, preparing for a hurricane is frightening. And living through one, hearing the winds, wondering if your shelter will cave at any moment, is without a doubt one of the scariest experiences among natural disasters. And the aftermath, is incomprehensible to those who haven’t experienced it.
This hurricane season, I will donate all of the proceeds from sales of The Truth About Awiti to hurricane relief organizations. While I am grateful for the new readership, knowing there are readers who will learn more about the history of the African diaspora, it is uncomfortable to earn money, no matter how nominal, from others’ misfortune. And as a country, we must continue to unite and support each other during what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts will be one of the most active hurricane seasons since 2010.
“[On August 9, 2017], NOAA issued the scheduled update for its 2017 hurricane season outlook. Forecasters are now predicting a higher likelihood of an above-normal season, and they increased the predicted number of named storms and major hurricanes. The season has the potential to be extremely active, and could be the most active since 2010. Forecasters now say there is a 60-percent chance of an above-normal season (compared to the May prediction of 45 percent chance), with 14-19 named storms (increased from the May predicted range of 11-17) and 2-5 major hurricanes (increased from the May predicted range of 2-4). A prediction for 5-9 hurricanes remains unchanged from the initial May outlook.”
Praying for everyone recovering from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, and those bracing themselves for this hurricane season. Godspeed and know that you are in my prayers.