Author Interview | Beverly Jenkins
Now, far be it for anyone to judge Beverly Jenkins’ father, but he almost inadvertently deprived the world of Beverly’s sassy heroines set in the rich history of multicultural America.
Thanks to his degree in biology and the fact his books were some of the first Beverly came into contact with, the recipient of the 2017 Romance Writers of America Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement Award had aspirations of becoming a cytologist.
“Through him, I developed a lifelong interest in all things science, and receiving a microscope for Christmas when I was ten was my best gift ever,” she says. “As for reading, the love of the written word came from both parents, but mostly my mom. She read to me in the womb.”
Beverly discovered romance novels in junior high and devoured all the standards: Mary Stewart, Victoria Holt, Georgette Heyer… but perhaps surprisingly, the genre she most loves to read is science fiction fantasy.
“Why did romance hook me? I’m a sucker for a good love story, I suppose, and in romance that story can be centered in any genre a writer chooses - mysteries, westerns, historicals, SFF, present day… You name it and romance writers can give it an HEA.”
With an initial attempt at publishing a contemporary manuscript, Beverly moved to the historical genre as it was her first book that sold and history, particularly African American history, has always been a favorite subject.
“When my career began, there were only a handful of Black romance writers. Now, there are tons, and they’re writing fabulous books within all romance’s sub genres,” she says.
“Night Song, published in 1994 was my first, and its journey to publication was typical of most first books. Tons of rejections. However, many of the letters noted the great writing. But. The but translated to publishing having no idea what to do with a romance featuring freed African Americans living in a small town in Kansas in the 1880s. New York had no box for that type of story. Eventually though, Avon bought the rights and I’ve written for them since.”
It has proven to be a fruitful partnership, with the publishing house trusting Beverly’s writing and allowing her to create in multiple genres: historical, romantic suspense and YA.
“One of positives cited by readers about my work is the history the stories hold. Whether it’s the Black female doctors of the 19th century, the lawmen and outlaws of colour in Indian Territory, the Black veterans of the Revolutionary War, or Harriet Tubman spying for the Union Army, it’s history not taught in schools.
Most of my readers are women, and when they pass on what they’ve learned to their children and families it becomes education, not just entertainment,” says Beverly.
This history is fraught with injustice and brutality, showcasing humanity at some of its lowest points. But for Beverly, creating a happily-ever-after in her historical novels is not a difficult task.
“African-American women and men have always loved – during slavery, Reconstruction, Redemption, the Red Summer of 1919, Jim Crow. America may have denied us equality, our Constitutional rights, and our ability to travel freely, but it’s never been able to strip away our humanity,” she explains.
Beverly believes that being human is to give and receive love, and it was this love bond that kept her ancestors strong; “To get up each day and fight the battle of being Black in this country and to come home to someone who provided the balm and surcease needed, is one of the elements that gave people the strength to survive, and to keep putting one foot in front of the other. This is rarely portrayed by a mainstream media that tends to only focus on our pain, thus giving the impression that Black love is uncommon. It isn’t. We’ve always loved.”
As for stereotypes, Beverly works against them by not giving them credence. Black history is more nuanced than what’s taught in school and while slavery may have been the beginning of the journey, it didn’t end there: “After freedom we became and continue to be more, and I do my best to shine a light on those “missing” years between 1865 and 1965.”
“As for Black men. They are rarely celebrated as heroes. From putting their lives on the line in every war from the Indian Wars to Afghanistan, to the inventions they patented, to the breakthroughs in medicine and science they’ve achieved, their impact on American society has been immense, but they’re portrayed as shiftless and abusive more often than not. In my books, I give them the respect they’ve earned.”
Combined with her portrayal of strong, sexy and successful heroines, Beverly’s novels are sending a powerful message about agency in a media landscape that is stacked against people of colour. ♥