New York City, NY -- August 31, 2007

It’s fitting that I would meet a writer in New York City! Taking a break from the computer and was reading Love Across Color Lines: Ottilie Assing and Frederick Douglass, by Maria Diedrich.

She was kind enough to invite me to sit at her table while she finished a cup of tea. Her name is Joyce Hackett and she's a novelist. Check out her website at

Her first novel--Disturbance of the Inner Ear. Her second was going to be about sound history in Harlem, but when she happened upon the gravestones of Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony, she got sidetracked....and inspired.

She was in Rochester, accepting the Kafka Prize (not related to the German writer) for Disturbance of the Inner Ear (click to see a description I can't do justice to), when she toured Mount Hope cemetery. The tour guide wasn’t available but an elderly lady, a gardening volunteer, took her around the grounds and told her the local legends. She took her first to Anthony’s grave and then, a five minute walk away, to Douglass' grave.

Douglass and Anthony were contemporaries, in Rochester, from the late 1840s until 1872. They worked together any number of times, and each was the most renowned activist in his or her movement. Yet there is no record of either of them talking about the other. Many of Douglass' papers burned in a fire at the end of his time in Rochester, and Anthony's biographer says she spent one week of full days burning Anthony's "inappropriate" papers. But all this led her to wonder, what evidence disappeared?

The novel is about the relationship between the abolitionists and the suffragists at the end of the Civil War, as the abolitionists decide not to support the vote for women.

She still goes back occasionally to the graveyard. Later she'll go back to sound history.

Sometimes, she said, research takes you in different directions. When she was a student she went to Italy and, though she intended on studying Dante, she felt like, in order to really understand Dante, it was necessary to start with the very basics of what was around her. There were steps she needed to go through for understanding. She ended up studying tufa, a volcanic rock that the Romans built with--the Romans invented concrete--and wound up just concentrating on the geological aspects of the tufa and never got to the buildings and further, to Dante.

She did eventually get back to Dante, which provided the loose structure for her award winning first novel, Disturbance of the Inner Ear.

Thanks for sharing your table!

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