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“Most novels violate the texture of reality by going for cheap thrills,” says Frederick, Md., resident William Heath. His own book, The Children Bob Moses Led, aims to capture the triumphs and dangers of Freedom Summer without exaggerating events: “Everything that gets blown up in this novel really got blown up, but not necessarily in the order that it happened,” he adds, with a touch of pride.
In Children, Heath writes from the imagined point of view of a real civil rights icon, Bob Moses, and a partly autobiographical student, Tom Morton. The author draws on his 10 years of research—and his firsthand experience at the landmark March on Washington—to re-create the volatile racial climate of 1960s Mississippi. At a recent Chapters reading—looking much the English professor that he is, in a maroon tweed jacket and somewhat color-coordinated striped tie—he discussed his brand of virtual vérité.
“Only novels can bring experience alive in a multinuanced way—historians don’t do that,” Heath believes. He’s concerned with “getting people engaged with the real world,” and thinks that storytelling is the way to do it. In preparation for this novel, he interviewed Bob Moses at an American University conference, and has since sent his title character a copy of the manuscript. “I don’t know how he’ll respond; he’s a very enigmatic guy,” Heath muses. Yet the author remains confident in his portrayal of grass-roots organizing and, for readers who still want just the facts, Children‘s bibliography lists several key nonfiction works about Freedom Summer.