Blog tour: Tony Abbott

Today, TeachingBooks.net welcomes author Tony Abbott as he stops by on his blog tour to discuss his new book Lunch-Box Dream (Frances Foster Books/FSG, 2011).

Lunch-Box Dream is a story of two families during one week in June 1959. A white family—two brothers, their mother, and their grandmother—drives south from Ohio, visiting Civil War battlefields along the way. Simultaneously, a black family in Atlanta sends their young boy to visit relatives in a smaller town outside that city. These two stories aim toward each other, crossing only at a bus station at the end of the book. I’ve never liked spoilers, so I won’t say more than that, but the book explores family life and racism and is based on memories of a trip I took when my family lived in Cleveland.

Tony Abbott, his brother, and grandmother.
Photo courtesy of Tony Abbott, 2011
The first hurdle I had to jump was the basic one of how to tell the story. I was young during that original trip, and what I saw of Jim Crow in action (primarily in Georgia) did not tell a full story even though it was powerful in memory. It was one-sided, thin, accurate only as a reflection of my family and myself. When I chanced to read Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, it struck me that multiple viewpoints might be the way to tell my story. Fragmented memory could be made whole by invention: imagining the other side of what I saw—the black people involved in the scenes I remember, and allowing them to tell it. Thus, the Thomas family was born. From that point on, I wrote fairly fiercely over a period of several months.
Perryville Battlefield, Perryville, Kentucky
Photo courtesy of Tony Abbott, 2011
Besides discussing the trip with my mother, whose memories abetted my own, research included reading dozens of books — novels, history, biography — to help create the new threads of story. I then consulted the Cleveland and Atlanta newspapers for the week in June when the trip took place. I found complete runs at the University of Connecticut, where I went to school. Delightfully, my wife and I were able to drive the fifty-year-old route; my mother had actually saved the AAA TripTik prepared for her in 1959. This half-century old relic sits in my office now. Driving the older roads (since overtaken by highways) and revisiting the battlegrounds added a depth of realism to descriptions of the journey south.

 

Finding the right editor and publisher enabled all the work to come together in a way that I’m so proud of. I’ve now started discussing Lunch-Box Dream with social studies teachers, history teachers, language teachers, all looking for fresh ways to talk with their students about the Civil Rights era. I couldn’t have hoped for a better outcome.
Hear Tony Abbott pronounce and speak about his name. Listen now.

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