Author Interview: Brit Bennett

From The New York Times-bestselling author of The Mothers, The Vanishing Half is a stunning new novel about twin sisters, inseparable as children, who ultimately choose to live in two very different worlds, one black and one white. We spoke with Brit Bennett about what inspired her to write The Vanishing Half, the importance of independent bookstores, and more.

Brit Bennett’s second novel broke my heart. She doesn’t shy away from the sadness inherent in each character’s life, yet she left me feeling better for having met all of them. I read The Vanishing Half with a sense of hope, despite my dread that terrible things might befall the characters. Desiree and Stella’s story unfolds with a deft delicateness in a book that is astonishingly accomplished and sweeping, and yet so very intimate.

Jamie Thomas, bookseller at Women & Children First

The ‘mothers’ of this book’s title refers to the gaggle of elderly churchgoing women who comment on the congregation around them, especially the trio of Nadia, Luke, and Aubrey. But The Mothers is about more than that—it refers to the concept of motherhood, whether biological, lost, aborted, adoptive, or conflicted.

Jamie Thomas, bookseller at Women & Children First

Please tell us a little bit about what inspired you to write this book and how this story took shape for you.

Years ago, my mother mentioned a town she remembered from her childhood, where light-skinned residents intermarried in hopes that their children would progressively grow lighter. I became interested in the idea of a Black town obsessed with skin color, and I imagined a story about identical twins whose lives dramatically diverge. One decides to pass for white and disappears, while the other returns to their hometown with a dark-skinned daughter. I wanted to explore the idea of identity: how do we become who are?

Have you listened to your own audiobook? What struck you about the narration?

The life the narrator was able to breathe into the story. When I give a public reading, I try my best to read my work in a way that sounds engaging, but when you listen to an audiobook, you truly respect the professionals.

Are you an audiobook listener? What are some of your favorite audiobooks?

I love listening to audiobooks on airplanes—there’s something really calming about it to me. I particularly enjoyed Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders, which really leaned into all of the possibilities in the audiobook form by assembling such a huge, impressive cast of narrators.

What have independent bookstores and/or booksellers meant to you personally and professionally?

I’m so grateful to independent bookstores and booksellers. As a reader, I value indie bookstores as vital cultural and community spaces where we can gather to hear authors speak or receive recommendations on great new books. As a writer, I’ve been thankful for indie bookstores who have hosted me for events and hand-sold my book long after. Amidst all the turmoil this year, I hope we continue fighting to protect our local independent bookstores and the crucial role they play within our communities.

Header photo by Emma Trim

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