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I Wanted To Re-imagine His World

Jenna Caldwell Author Interview

Still Waters follows a man who wakes up with no memory of his family and must navigate the challenges of starting a new life while grappling with the traumas of his past. What was the inspiration for the setup of your story?

The inspiration for the setup of this story was actually a scene from Ava DuVernay’s limited series When They See Us (2019). For those that don’t know, When They See Us (2019) tells the story of the Central Park Five — five young Black and brown boys who were accused of brutally assaulting a jogger in New York City in 1989. All of the boys were convicted between six and twelve years. Throughout their trials they maintained their innocence. Later their sentences were vacated once the true (and lone) assailant admitted to the crime in 2002. Ultimately, there is a scene when Korey Wise (played by Jharrel Jerome) is locked in solitary confinement, and he begins to daydream about what if he decided not to go to the park with his friends that day. How differently his life would’ve turned out. When his daydream ends, he is back in prison, alone. I wanted to do something similar with a case that involved another Black teenager — and that was the case of George Stinney, Jr., the youngest American to be executed in the United States at 14-years-old. I wanted to re-imagine his world, and give him a different reality, if only briefly. 

George is an interesting and well-developed character. What were some driving ideals behind your character’s development?

Admittedly, it was a bit difficult writing George’s character because I am writing about a young teenager, who is in the body of an adult. When you’re young, you’re naturally very curious and so I think it was important for me to make George curious about the world around him — and try to grasp what was happening to him. He is being forced to mature quicker than he would probably like to, like many Black children in the U.S., and so I think it was important to capture both his innocence and budding adulthood.  

What themes were important for you to explore in this book?

It was important for me to explore how Black adults in the U.S. are often treated like children, and Black children are often treated like adults — and where these two ideals meet in this novel. George’s children are attacked for being children, in one scene in the book because they are expected to present much older. They are given less leniency than other children. Ultimately, George is being treated as an adult by the state of South Carolina when he is sentenced to death. So this was something that was important for me to explore. 

What is the next book you are working on and when will it be available?

I do not currently have a book in the works, but am thinking of turning Still Waters into a screenplay so stay tuned for more news on that front!

Author Links: GoodReads | Twitter | Website

When George, a high school teacher, wakes up one morning, he’s surprised to find his doting wife, Henrietta, cooking breakfast for him and their three young children, Junior, Cynthia and Addie. Not because this is out of the ordinary—as far as George can tell, this is routine—but because he doesn’t recognize them. Any of them. Or himself, he soon realizes. Hundreds of miles from the only home he’s ever known, George tries to adapt to his new, idyllic life and navigate the unique challenges that come with it. But his past won’t let him move on so easily.

As he struggles to let go of what was and hold onto what is—and, more importantly, what can be—traumas, past and present, dare to carry George back to a world he desperately wants to escape.

Rooted in a dark, and important, history, Still Waters is an emotionally gripping story of love and loss that will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very end.

Still Waters

Still Waters by Jenna Caldwell is a powerful, breathtaking retelling of the wrongful conviction and execution of George Stinney Jr. in 1944. Caldwell’s storytelling skills are unparalleled, transporting readers into a dream-like state as George struggles to piece together his past with his present, which has become foreign to him. With vivid imagery, Caldwell showcases George’s journey of self-discovery and inner turmoil as he grapples with the injustice and discrimination he faces.

His life feels distorted, as if his wife and children don’t seem real, including his job at a high school and promotion as the first black man to oversee the board of education’s art department. When George must face unexpected events, he is thrust into a dire situation, adding to the story’s emotional power and bringing to light vital themes of racism, classism, and a corrupt justice system.

The author provides an immersive experience, leaving readers holding their breath for what comes next. I especially found the transition from George’s story to the factual account of George Stinney Jr’s case exceptional and poignant.

Still Waters by Jenna Caldwell reminds us of the raw, unapologetic, and ongoing injustices marginalized communities face. I recommend this fantastic book as it is an important reminder of how history should be remembered and its impact on many people today.

ASIN B0BCH9RZ5S | Pages: 185

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