Like The Help author Kathryn Stockett, Jonathan Odell grew up in Mississippi. Like Stockett, he is white and writes about interracial relationships in the segregated South. And like The Help, Odell’s new book focuses on the relationship between a privileged white woman and domestic workers. But here’s the twist: Odell’s latest—Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League—is a reimagined version of his debut novel, The View from Delphi, which was published five years before The Help. It chronicles the contentious relationship between wealthy Hazel and Vida, the maid hired to care for her following an accident. The acrimonious duo at the core of Odell’s book differs from the gauzy sentiment shrouding Stockett’s white protagonist, Skeeter, and the maids she empowers. “My book is not the ‘anti-Help’ because when I wrote it, The Help wasn’t out,” Odell says. “But the genesis is very different. Early on, I was challenged to write a black hero, not a story about benevolent white folks saving black folks.” To revise Delphi into Miss Hazel, Odell lopped about a hundred pages out of his first book and focused on the central dynamic between Hazel and Vida.
Odell will be making several visits along with Margaret Block, who was a ’60s activist with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and whom he met while researching the first version of his book. “She still has her 1960s anger and righteousness, and I love that,” he says.
On the Calendar: Jonathan Odell, the novelist, joins activist Margaret Block for a talk at the Gwinnett Public Library on February 6.