Interview with Claire Fullerton, author of Little Tea
05 May 2020
What can you tell us about your new release, Little Tea?
Little Tea ( named after a character whose real name is Thelonia Winfrey) is the story of those long-lasting friendships that see you through a lifetime, wherein there’s shared history; language; and sense of humor. The narrator, Celia Wakefield spent part of her childhood at her family’s 3rd generation land in Como, Mississippi, where the cultural social mores concerning racial integration had yet to fully evolve. This premise sets the dynamic of a trajectory of events that impact her friendship with Little Tea and haunt Celia Wakefield decades later. When Celia reunites with two childhood friends at Greer’s Ferry Lake in Heber Springs, Arkansas, Celia’s past resurfaces for long-overdue resolution.
What books are currently on your nightstand?
The Boatman and Other Stories by Irish author, Billy O’Callaghan
Chemistry and Other Stories by Ron Rash
The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy, which I’ve read repeatedly and like to revisit for its stellar language.
What advice would you give your teenage self?
Pay scrupulous attention to the world around you and the people in it. Take mental notes of nuance and particulars. Astute observation is the key to being a writer.
If you had an extra hour each day, how would you spend it?
Reading the great writers of the world.
What makes your world go round? Why does it bring you joy?
My world goes round when I get in the middle of it. I love great singer-songwriters with poetic lyrical skills and exceptional singing voices. Taking a long walk while listening to music is physically therapeutic and meditatively inspirational on so many artistic levels. It sets me right! Then, of course, there are my three frolicking German shepherds who’ve never had a bad day in their life.
What scene in Little Tea was your favorite to write?
There’s a memory that narrator, Celia Wakefield, shares about a balmy Sunday in Como, Mississippi, when she and her charismatic brother, Hayward, sneak into the back of a church at the end of a dirt road to hear their good friend, Little Tea, sing with the choir. In the racially divided South, they are the only white people in Mount Moriah church and want to be inconspicuous but instead, they are immediately set upon with great, welcoming enthusiasm by those dressed in their Sunday finest carrying paper stick fans against the Southern heat. It is an eye-opening experience for Hayward, who plays the Steinway piano at a concert level and gravitates to all things musical. I wrote about what goes on in such a setting: the gospel music, the hand-clapping, the bright, unified spirit of humble souls who make that rural, Mississippi church their spiritual center of gravity. The scene is telling of the times and the disparity in racial cultures and, in that moment, Celia has a moment of awakening.
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