Author Chat with Claire Hartfield (A Few Red Drops: The Chicago Race Riot of 1919), Plus Giveaway!

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Today we're excited to chat with Claire Hartfield, author of A Few Red Drops: The Chicago Race Riot of 1919. Read on for more about Claire and her book, plus a giveaway!

 

Meet Claire Hartfield!

 
 

A lifelong Chicagoan, Claire heard stories of the 1919 race riot from her grandmother, who lived in the Chicago Black Belt during that time, and was moved to research and share this history with younger generations. A graduate of Yale University who earned her law degree at University of Chicago, Claire is a recognized education leader who has overseen school desegregation plans for the cities of Chicago and Rockford, Illinois and continues to work in setting policy and creating programs in a charter school setting on Chicago’s African-American West Side. She is also the author of ME AND UNCLE ROMIE, a nationally honored historical fiction picture book based on the life and art of world-renowned collage artist, Romare Bearden. 

 

 
 
Meet A Few Red Drops: The Chicago Race Riot of 1919!
 
 
 On a hot day in July 1919, five black youths went swimming in Lake Michigan, unintentionally floating close to the "white" beach. An angry white man began throwing stones at the boys, striking and killing one. Racial conflict on the beach erupted into days of urban violence that shook the city of Chicago to its foundations. This mesmerizing narrative draws on contemporary accounts as it traces the roots of the explosion that had been building for decades in race relations, politics, business, and clashes of culture. 
 
 
A Chat with Claire Hartfield:
 
1. What gave you the inspiration to write this book?
Watching the news of racial tensions flaring up around the country called up a memory of a story my grandmother told me when I was just a little girl. In the summer of 1919, my Grammie was twenty years old and had just moved from New Orleans to Chicago. She was excited to have gotten a factory job. Every day she rode the streetcar (the bus of her time) from home to work and back. One day, instead of opening the doors to let her out near home, the streetcar driver kept right on going. Outside, crowds of people pushed and shoved and threw rocks at the streetcar. My grandmother was scared out of her mind. It turned out she got caught in the middle of a race riot.
 
Flash forward to news footage of police clashing with protestors in Ferguson, Missouri. I wanted to know: What was the same? What was different? How can we do better? I got inspired! I know a lot of teenagers. If anyone can make a difference, it’s you.
 
2. Who is your favorite character in the book?
 
These were all real people and I would love to meet any of them. Just going on personality, I particularly enjoyed Irish butcher Johnny Joyce. He was a young guy, just starting out, and he had so much enthusiasm for the world. He was proud of his skills and he loved the guys he worked with—he called them his brotherhood. He was cocky and impulsive and full of life.
 
3. Which came first, the title or the novel?
The book came first. In fact, I initially chose a different title. But toward the end of writing, I read a poem by Carl Sandburg that summed it all up. “I Am the People, The Mob” is about ordinary people who are the backbone of this country but struggle so hard to make ends meet. Most of the time, the people bear their burdens quietly. But, the poem says, “Sometimes I growl, shake myself and spatter a few red drops for history to remember.” I knew I had my perfect title.
 
4. What scene in the book are you most proud of, and why?
 
The scene that was hardest and also the most fun was about the Great Migration of black families from the South to Chicago. I was working from a series of short interviews about individual experiences. I had to weave them together into a story to give you a vivid picture of a movement—whole communities leaving everything they had ever known. I hope when you read it you will feel what it was like for them—their worry, their sadness, mixed with their excitement, cautious but hopeful for a better life in a new place.
 
5. What do you like most about the cover of the book?
 
Wow! I love this cover. The colors—red sky over a black city skyline—and the spatters of red blood dripping from the title are vivid, strong, and ominous. It really makes you feel the dread and rage hanging over the city.
A little behind-the-scenes info for you: We tried to find an old photograph to use as the cover but none of them captured the big picture. So, we went back to the drawing board (literally!) and came up with this image that says it all. Even with book covers, you sometimes need to revise.
 
6. Which was the most difficult or emotional scene to narrate?
 
There are several. The event that sparked the riot—the murder of a black teen who was just out for fun at the beach—is heartbreaking. Another tough one is the scene of European immigrants starving and standing in line for food, only to be turned away with nothing, unable to feed their children. 
 
7. Which part of the writing process do you enjoy more: Drafting or Revising?
 
I actually like both for different reasons. Writing is a creative process. For me, it’s imagining a scene in my head—something like watching a movie. I feel the ebb and flow of the characters emotions, I find myself caring deeply about what happened to them.
Revising is more like a crossword puzzle. Searching for just the right word or sentence or group of sentences. Rolling various words around in my head, sometimes, saying them out loud, until I find just the right one.
 
8. What would you say is your superpower?
 
Time travel. I love going from my present life to spend time among people and places of the past—1919 Chicago in the meatpacking district, 16th Century England ruled by Queen Elizabeth, 1920s Harlem Renaissance, home to great artists and musicians. And all sorts of other places and times. I think of history as you and me if we had been born earlier. What would we have done if we lived then?
 
9. Is there an organization or cause that is close to your heart?
 
I work with a school in one of Chicago’s poorest communities where the families struggle to put food on the table and keep their kids safe. This school is such a wonderful place. Teachers take the time to talk to students about problems or great ideas or just to share a joke. Students are full of big plans and they work hard but also are funny as heck and have great stories to tell. I knew some of them when they were just starting kindergarten and now they are college graduates. So proud! 
 
 
 
 

A Few Drops: The Chicago Race Riot of 1919

By: Claire Hartfield

Release Date: January 2, 2018

*GIVEAWAY DETAILS* 

 
 One winner will receive a copy of A Few Drops of Red: The Chicago Race Riot of 1919 (US & Canada only).
 

*Click the Rafflecopter link below to enter the giveaway*

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Comments 5

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Dianna G. on Thursday, 04 January 2018 18:47

While I might have skipped based on the cover, the synopsis really caught my attention. I've never heard of that event in history and would like to learn more.

0
While I might have skipped based on the cover, the synopsis really caught my attention. I've never heard of that event in history and would like to learn more.
Kara S on Sunday, 07 January 2018 15:19

My ignorance of this history, my sense of its importance, immediately compel me to make this a must-read. Great description offered here, and red demands attention, which is good for this book! Thanks for the chance to win this outstanding new book! Kara S

0
My ignorance of this history, my sense of its importance, immediately compel me to make this a must-read. Great description offered here, and red demands attention, which is good for this book! Thanks for the chance to win this outstanding new book! Kara S
Alyssa Annico on Friday, 12 January 2018 08:28

This looks really like a really intriguing nonfiction entry for secondary students.

0
This looks really like a really intriguing nonfiction entry for secondary students.
Marisa Fort on Friday, 26 January 2018 17:16

The cover really attracts the eye and sets the tone, the synopsis is very interesting and makes me want to learn more since I didn't know anything about this prior.

0
The cover really attracts the eye and sets the tone, the synopsis is very interesting and makes me want to learn more since I didn't know anything about this prior.
Danielle Hammelef on Friday, 02 February 2018 14:47

The cover matches the synopsis well. This sounds like not only an exciting and emtional book, but important to read too.

0
The cover matches the synopsis well. This sounds like not only an exciting and emtional book, but important to read too.

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