What’s mine and yours, hide from Naima Coster’s Grand Central caption
At the center of Naima Coster’s new novel “What’s Mine and Yours” are two determined and difficult mothers, equal and opposing forces.
There is Jade, whom Coster describes as “a woman trying to figure out how to pursue her own ambitions while taking care of a child herself”. And Lacey May, “a woman struggling financially and trying to secure a future for her girls that she couldn’t secure.”
Their paths cross in a North Carolina high school auditorium. In fact, Jade from that east side is fighting at a community meeting over a new integration program that will bring students from the largely black east side of the city to the largely white high school on the west side to get their son Gee into school. Lacey May and her daughters live on the West Side and she is running a campaign to keep the new students out. The stories of the two families play together over decades and each of them struggles to overcome the harrowing loss.
“I think this creates a kind of toughness that should be a survival strategy for the kids,” says Coster, “when both families are dealing with grief that feels so big that they could swallow it.”
Highlights of the interview
What if you try to hold back the grief?
Gee … has a loss early on in his life and it is something that he has gathered that he shouldn’t talk about. And I’ve been thinking about how people of color are expected to be exceptional in mostly white rooms. So extraordinary, not just in terms of the task at hand, such as being good at school or highlighting in the workplace, but extraordinary in terms of a biography or family history that feels neat or virtuous. And Gee doesn’t fit that description. He has a family history that he believes is wrong. And that gives him a lot of feelings of self-doubt, guilt that he has to work through.
With the mothers – especially with Lacey May
I’m not interested in making things easier for my characters, which might sound harsh, but I think that’s partly because life can be really harsh and brutal, and I’m interested in fiction that testifies to that reality.
I think Lacey May is certainly some kind of character that I have come across in my life. And she is a woman who feels that she has thwarted the potential and that maybe she could have achieved more in life. But she was consumed with the business of survival of being wife and mother. And so she rejects integration, also because she wants to take the opportunity and keep it for her girls. I will also say that Lacey May has racist ideas. It’s not that she stumbles into a racist position.
Whether she likes the character of Lacey May
I will say I understand. And I will also say that I have tenderness for parts of her. She is a lonely and alienated character and I feel for her in that regard. Would I want Lacey May with me as my mother-in-law or my girlfriend or on the PTA? Absolutely not. And I think that’s one of the things fiction can do, right? It can give us a window into the battles that each person is waging or facing. But that does not mean that we condone their actions or are even interested in redeeming them.
About writing and living with characters who are going through trauma
I don’t think I have a lot of distance when I’m working on it. I feel very immersed and not interested in making things easier for my characters, which may sound harsh, but I think that’s partly because life can be very harsh and brutal and I’m interested in fiction that this testifies to this reality. But I think of the moments of tenderness and relief they get – that don’t cancel out all difficulties.
When writing about the pandemic
Well I’m right with you Originally, the book was supposed to end much later in August 2020. So I had to revise the book’s chronology and schedule and change the weather so as not to think about the pandemic because I didn’t have the space to do that.
This story was edited for radio by Justine Kenin and adapted for the web by Petra Mayer