Arts & Entertainment

Kim Coleman Foote

Kim Coleman Foote relishes in the success of her first novel, "Coleman Hill"

Contributed By: The 411 News

Interview by Faith Smith, IU Northwest Class of 2024 and Commencement Student Speaker

Kim Coleman Foote – and I would like to note the “e” at the end of her last name – was born and raised in New Jersey.

Since a child, Ms. Foote has focused her writing on what she refers to as “the lion’s tale,” and she enjoys documenting the experiences of and relationships between women, highlighting black women’s stories from various backgrounds. Ms. Foote has received fellowships from the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center, the NEA, the NFYA, Bread Loaf, Center for Fiction and more. She has also received residencies at Yaddo, MacDowell and Hedgebrook.

Last month, as the recipient of the 2024 MORE Scholarship Research Fund, for one of my projects I had the pleasure of interviewing Ms. Foote to discuss her first novel, Coleman Hill, that tells the story of two African American families and their exhilarating journeys in the midst of the Great Migration. Her book has been named the finalist for the NAACP Image Award as well as the Audie Award. The questions as well as her thorough responses are outlined as followed:

Smith: Coleman Hill leads with the story of two African American women forced into independence after their husbands die. They later are motivated by their mothers’ friendship and their children to unite and continue their journey of womanhood. How important is it for you as an author to create stories that showcase the unity of women and mothers? Do you feel as though writing limits or makes more room for how women in stories are either separated or brought together? In present culture, how has this been received positively or negatively?

Foote: Since I started writing as a child, my focus has been the “lion’s tale,” and black women’s stories have been my go-to for quite some time. I enjoy documenting the experiences of and relationships between women, whether they are mothers or not, friends or not. Coleman Hill focuses on major tensions between more than one set of mothers and daughters, wives and their mothers-in-law, and friends, but I don’t consider this a mainstream or universal depiction of black female relationships.

I explored these key themes because they’ve impacted my real-life family in significant ways and because I wanted to figure out the roots of that behavior. But, I am always cognizant of creating balance in my writing, so I did make sure to also depict moments of love, tenderness, and admiration among women, including from seemingly unlikely sources, such as a formerly enslaved mother and a group of sex workers.

Smith: Briefly discuss the Southern dialect that sets the tone of the story. How does the language put a voice to Black people in the south during this time period?

Foote: The major characters are based on my family, who were enslaved and who settled in southeast Alabama and the Florida Panhandle after slavery ended. They were sharecroppers with few financial means and little formal education.

The black dialect they used has been inaccurately described and stigmatized as “improper English,” but I consider it a beautiful expression of language. I wanted to honor the way my family spoke—and how I myself spoke growing up—so I decided to write some sections of the book in dialect. I was also keen to show how my family’s speech evolved over the decades. Those of my grandparents’ generation, for example, maintained a thick Southern accent even though they lived mostly in the North. Those of my mother’s generation have a distinctive Jersey accent, though with Southern undertones.

Smith: Coleman Hill is available on platforms like Barnes & Noble, Amazon and the African American Literature Book Club (AALBC). It was also longlisted for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize and received tremendous praise from National Book and Pulitzer prize-winning authors. Given your success, what advice would you give to aspiring writers and future authors looking to be published?

Foote: There are those who try to write to the market’s tastes and who treat writing books as a “get rich quick” scheme. But the road to book publishing can be long, difficult, and unpredictable—at least, it was for me and many others—so I would advise aspiring authors to write as if their work might never get published, to write for the joy of telling a solid, engaging story. I also couldn’t have gotten as far as I did without the following: believing in myself and in my writing, honing my craft, having a burning desire to tell my stories, getting rejected so many times that it stopped hurting (mostly), and having the camaraderie and support of writer friends and community.

Smith: When did you know you wanted to write?

Foote: I wrote my first story at around seven years old, and I loved getting into the shoes of other people and imagining their lives. By the time I was a pre-teen, I’d written a few long-form manuscripts and aspired to be the youngest American to publish a novel.

Story Posted:04/30/2024

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