Winning the South
Author Lisa Wingate spins new Southern mythology in her
latest offering, Before We Were Yours
Story by Casey Hilder
“What if?” That’s the question that drives the historical fiction of author Lisa Wingate.
Wingate’s writing deals with taking an eye toward real-life events such as the fabled lost colony of Roanoke in the mid-1500s and an orphanage-turned-child brokering operation right here in the Mid-South and injecting her own believable, true-to-life characters in hopes of answering some of history’s greatest mysteries.
In her most recent offering, Before We Were Yours, Wingate tells the story of Rill Foss, a 12-year-old girl who lives a happy life with her family on the Mississippi river before she and her siblings are taken from their shantyboat in the dead of night. She is transported to the Tennessee Children’s Home Society and raised by the cruel and domineering Georgia Tann.
“Really, every story of mine has a spark – it’s usually some sort of historical event,” she says. “For this one, I was watching an episode of ‘Deadly Women’ on the Discovery Channel. This particular episode was about privilege women who ultimately got away with their crimes: Georgia Tann was one of them. I became fascinated and my mind got to work.”
While the children at the center of Before We Were Yours are fictional, the events behind Wingate’s story are all too real. From 1920 to 1950, impoverished children like Rill were kidnapped from happy homes and sold to the care of wealthy families across the country. While adoption records from the time are spotty, several thousand orphans are believes to have gone through the same corrupt system. When the time came to decide whose voice told this story, the choice was obvious for Wingate.
“I thought about this for a while: who do I tell this story through?” she asks. “Would it be from a parent’s perspective? A social worker? As I did the research, I began to realize that the stories of the kids were left untold. They were taken from the life they once knew and cast into these orphan homes. What was it like to experience that?”
Heartfelt and oftentimes hard to both read and put down, Before We Were Yours serves as a tribute of sorts to storytellers of the past and a new chapter in the great tradition of Southern literature.
LISA WINGATE’S TIPS FOR
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