Having picked up a slew of national accolades for her debut novel chronicling multiple generations of a single Detroit family, Angela Flournoy says she’s had “a surprising but wonderful few months.”
Flournoy’s book, “The Turner House,” follows the many members of the expansive fictional Turner family through the 50 years they spend living in the same Detroit home. The novel was included on numerous lists of last year’s best books, including the New York Times’ “100 Notable Books of 2015,” and nominated for a NAACP Image Award. But Flournoy says the biggest and most pleasant surprise came in October, when “The Turner House” was named one of five finalists for the National Book Award in fiction.
“Awards are such funny things,” Flournoy says. “They only pick 10 books to put on the long list and five books to put on the short list. The odds, with how many books are put out in a year, are really against you.”
Flournoy says her schedule has gotten much busier since the National Book Award honor. She’ll speak Thursday at Parka Weather, a fundraiser dinner at the Grand Army of the Republic Building for the children’s writing education charity 826michigan. She’ll also appear Feb. 18 at the University of Michigan Museum of Art for the Zell Visiting Writers Series.
She says she’s been thrilled by how strongly the diverse audiences have responded to her book’s working-class, African-American protagonists. She chalks that up to her specific, vividly drawn characters.
“If you try to write them very broad, no one will identify with them because they won’t feel like real people,” she says.
But Detroit itself is just as much a character as any of the people, and just as strikingly rendered — even in sections that take place in the ’40s and ’60s, long before Flournoy was born. Flournoy says she devoured research on Detroit, including books and documentary films.
“I wanted to cram in so many cool factoids,” she says. “The biggest challenge was to pare it down to what mattered for the characters.”
Although Detroit fascinates Flournoy, she’s never lived here. Her father grew up in Detroit and the Turner house is based on his childhood home, but he moved to Southern California before Flournoy was born. Flournoy currently resides in Brooklyn, but she says she has visited Detroit regularly to see family since she was an infant. In returning to the city periodically, she’s always been captivated by how much Detroit changes from visit to visit.
Although Flournoy will spend the summer promoting the book, she’s already working on the next one. However, she reveals no details.
“Until I have a certain number of pages I don’t like to talk about it,” she says.
Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer.
Parka Weather (fundraiser dinner for 826michigan)
6 p.m., Thurs.
Grand Army of the Republic Building
1942 Grand River, Detroit
Zell Visiting Writers Series
5:30 p.m., Feb. 18
University of Michigan Museum of Art — Helmut Stern Auditorium
525 S. State, Ann Arbor