Donaldson Writer-in-Residence Kelli Jo Ford shares an excerpt from “The Hallelujah Ear” that explores the issues of culture, family, and growing up | Rare Techy
On Thursday, November 10, the College of William and Mary 2022 Donaldson Writer-in-Residence, Kelli Jo Ford, read an excerpt from her debut novel, Crooked Hallelujah, at the Reves Center for International Studies. “Crooked Hallelujah” was shortlisted for many awards, including the Story Award, the Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction, and the PEN/Hemingway Award. Ford’s writing is inspired by his personal experiences growing up as a citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma.
“Crooked Hallelujah” was originally intended as short pieces. By sticking to each story for a long time, they were woven into a full-length novel. Arthur Knight, associate professor of English and American studies, described the impact of this format.
“As a reader, I like to do that imagination that connects different chapters and sometimes you have to fill in your understanding of what could have happened in that great void between chapters,” Knight said.
“Crooked Hallelujah” spans many years, following the life of a half-breed Cherokee woman named Justine and eventually her daughter Reney’s.
“The book is inspired by the relationships between women in my family. Like Reney, I grew up in a household of four generations of Cherokee girls and women, and I had a very close relationship with my mother, but especially my great-grandmother.
“The book was inspired by the relationships between the women in my family,” said Ford. “Like Reney, I grew up in a household with four generations of Cherokee girls and women, and I had a very close relationship with my mother, but especially my great-grandmother.”
Ford read a section of the novel set in the Indian Country of eastern Oklahoma During the 1980s. Ford’s prose sang with rich, vivid detail, highlighting the charms and the trials of everyday life. The episode opens with Justine, Reney and another young woman putting on makeup in the bathroom while discussing her hopes for the future.
“We’ll be where we are before we know it,” Ford read from Reney’s point of view. “We’ll probably buy a pink Cadillac and drive to Dallas and then have dinner with Mary K herself.”
Justine and Reney’s current circumstances are not without challenges. Other women in their family, Grandma and Lula, differ from Justine in their views on religious practices and the modesty of a woman’s appearance and manner. Justine has to work at another job in the company cowboy bar to earn a living for himself and his daughter. A significant source of stress It was the men’s abusive treatment of Justine that has a reverberating effect on her relationship with Renee.
Leah Tutton ’23 reflected on their relationship.
“I think an abusive relationship is one of the hardest things anyone can go through, and in a sense it brings both of them together, especially in the mother-daughter relationship, but also creates an uncomfortable wedge,” said Tutton.
The intersection of misogyny and racism underlies the entire passage. in In one harrowing scene, Reney steals a gun from the man her mother is spending the night with. He dreams of escaping to his grandmother’s house and burying the gun, preventing a dangerous incident. The man curses Reney after he discovers it’s gone and Justine forces him to leave.
“Reney hears him yelling ‘about like a bunch of Indians’ and runs to the window just in time to to see him rip open the door of his truck,” Ford said as he described Reney’s perspective on the terrifying encounter.
The novel also shows how Reney’s observations of her mother’s relationships are negative impact on his own way of thinking.
“I was interested in pushing the idea that Reney has come to think of love as something used as violence.”
“I was interested in pushing the idea that Reney has come to think of love as something that is used as violence,” Ford said.
Struggles over whether or not to stay in touch with one’s culture are also explored throughout a novel. There is a persistent lack of opportunity in the reservation, mainly because of this consequences of colonialism. After finishing the excerpt, Justine and Reney travel together a a man named Pitch to Texas, the idealized place they had dreamed of for so long. Still, there is a powerful loss in moving away from the Cherokee Nation.
“I think Pitch is generally benevolent in Reney’s life, but I feel there’s an undertone of difficulty, especially in how he poses a threat to distance himself from Reney the rest of his family,” said attendee Jenna Massey ’24.
Reney no longer grows up around people who share the customs or knowledge of her heritage how to speak mother tongue Nevertheless, both he and his mother constantly feel each other were drawn back to the place they had left.
“Despite the trauma accompanying the stories, I think there is a great grief of love and connection,” Ford said.
A brief glimpse into Ford’s novel Crooked Hallelujah spoke volumes about the enduring emotional bonds between family and family. the tension between loving your home and wanting to become independent from it.