Story by Kelsey Samuels
Music is Rosalyn Story’s first love. That fuels the violinist’s other passion, writing. At a recent appearance at a Dallas library, where she signed her latest book “Wading Home,” the Lake Highlands resident tells of a rising jazz musician who must deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Story, a member of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, spoke to her fans about the many ways in which music influences themes of sadness, strength, family and cultural history, and the healing power of jazz in her writing. Story’s first two novels, “And So I Sing” (1990) and “More Than You Know” (2004) both examine music and its impact in the lives of her characters.
How did your love of music lead to love of writing?
I was born in Kansas City and lived and grew up there. I went to high school and fell in love with jazz. Later, I played violin for the Kansas City Philharmonic. Then I moved and played for the Tulsa Symphony. And I enjoyed it there, but I felt like I should add more to my résumé. So I caught the writing bug. I began writing for the Oklahoma Eagle, a historic black-owned paper. While I was there, I was assigned a story about a very talented gospel singer turned opera singer. She was home to sing in “Aida.” The interview yielded an amazing story, which led me to my idea for my first book about the history of African American women in opera.
Tell us more about your latest book, “Wading Home.”
The story is set in New Orleans before and after Hurricane Katrina. Julian Fortier is a rising star in the New York jazz world, trying to find his fortune. His father, Simon, is a retired chef known for his infamous red beans and rice. Julian and Simon are very close, but several conflicts and disagreements have driven a wedge between them. Simon wants to stay and wait out the storm like he’s done in the past, while Julian wants him to leave and get out. Their conversation ends bitterly, so when Julian gets word that his father is missing, he has some heavy feelings. Because of the storm, Julian must come back home, find his father and face several unresolved issues in New Orleans. The novel deals with several generational and familial issues. It asks the question, what is important and what is a priority? Simon is firmly rooted in tradition, and Julian feels he should make our own ways free from traditional expectations. It also talks about the aftermath of an apocalyptic story. Can things change for the better? What can you gain from a storm, and what can you lose from great change? I leave it up to the reader to answer that.
What was your inspiration for “Wading Home”?
I wanted to write about jazz again for this novel after “More Than You Know.” And I also wanted to write about New Orleans because of the rich jazz influence there. Also, the more research I did, the more my family became an influence. The owning and losing of land for African Americans plays a big part in the story. While researching land ownership, I found out more about my family and how African Americans have been losing their land for years because they don’t know their rights. So my own family, to some degree, influenced this novel. Also jazz plays a role in this novel, not as much as my past two books, but it was something I hadn’t finished exploring.
What role does music play in your novels?
I feel very comfortable writing about music. And with each book that I’ve written, it was fun writing about it. Especially in this novel, music plays a large role in Julian’s life, and jazz is woven into the fabric of New Orleans. The funeral processions of New Orleans are a significant example of how music can heal. For a long time after the storm, there was no music in New Orleans, which is very uncommon for that city. No birds, no music in the streets. Only silence. In the novel, there is an example where jazz music can turn a moment of grief into a moment of celebration. With a few chords of jazz, hope is restored. And it’s fun to write about that.
What’s in the future for Rosalyn Story?
Right now, the Fort Worth Symphony keeps me pretty busy, but I hope to start writing in August. I have some ideas in mind, but they’re strictly ideas. One is a continuation of my first book about African American divas of opera, except this one will have more pictures, more exploration and content than “And So I Sing.”