An interview with 

In her 1942 autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road, Zora Neale Hurston writes, “If you have received no clear-cut impression of what the Negro in America is like, then you are in the same place with me. There is no The Negro here. Our lives are so diversified, internal attitudes so varied, appearances and capabilities so different, that there is no possible classification so catholic that it will cover us all.” And so, too, does the fiction of debut novelist Cole Lavalais, a lifelong resident of Chicago, express true subjectivity in her Summer of the Cicadas. Over the course of weeks during the early spring, Lavalais and I exchanged letters about literature, history, family, and the artists who helped her along toward publishing her greatest achievement yet.

[This piece originally appeared in the Full Stop Quarterly Issue #3. The Quarterly is available to download or subscribe here.]

Summer of the Cicadas Book CoverA.M. Davenport: Cole, we’re talking on the eve of your first novel’s publication; I find myself wondering what your journey has been like. Where have books taken you? What do you hope for your reader to find in Summer of the Cicadas?

Cole Lavalais: My intention is to present one woman’s experience at a particular moment in time within a particular context. Edwidge Danticat wrote a letter to her protagonist at the end of Breathe, Eyes, and Memory, and it’s always stayed me with. She apologizes for the ways the world will make her story representational for all young Haitian women, and I’ve never been able to forget it. That idea of a singular story is what sits at the center of Summer of the Cicadas. All of the characters are struggling to not be representational. So I hope readers feel as if they know Vi by the end of book, but also realize it’s all they know. Vi’s experience is not every black woman’s experience.

Chicago and the South play such integral parts in Vi’s life as she leaves the North for her college studies. 100 years after the Great Migration, what do you think Vi learns from her Southern sojourn? 

Read more hereCole Lavalais Interviewed on Full Stop