Novelist Susan Rebecca White's new book inspired by food's ability to connect people

eshaw@islandpacket.comOctober 13, 2013 

  • IF YOU GO

    WHAT: Meet Susan Rebecca White, author of "A Place at the Table" as part of the 9th annual Bluffton Arts & Seafood Festival

    WHEN: 5:30 to 8 pm. Oct. 16

    WHERE: Rotary Community Center, 11 Recreation Court, Bluffton

    COST: $10. Proceeds go to the Waddell Mariculture Center.

    DETAILS: Reservations required. Call 843-815-2472 or 843-815-2474. For more details and the full schedule of events for the Arts and Seafood Festival, visit www.blufftonartsandseafoodfestival.com or call 843-757-2583.

Through the filter of Southern cooking, Susan Rebecca White's latest novel comes to life.

In her third book, "A Place at the Table," the author and gourmand explores the healing power of soul food and its ability to bring people together.

White will discuss her novel at Author Night on Oct. 16 as part of the 9th annual Bluffton Arts & Seafood Festival. She also will sign copies of her book.

Cooking is White's passion, second only to writing. It was while reading a cookbook -- something she often does for fun -- that White was inspired to write "A Place at the Table."

The cookbook, "A Taste of Country Cooking," is filled with recipes by legendary African-American chef Edna Lewis, who served up Southern eats at Cafe Nicholson in Manhattan in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Lewis's friend and protege was a man named Scott Peacock, white and 50 years her junior.

"I was just really drawn to their story," the Atlanta native said. "But I had to make it my own."

In "A Place at the Table," we meet Alice, an older black woman with a background marred by racism; Bobby, a young gay man from Georgia who is ostracized by his friends and family; and Amelia, a middle-aged housewife from Connecticut going through a divorce.

"They all feel like they no longer fit in and are looking for a place of their own. The way they find communion is through food," White said.

The three characters, each searching for somewhere they are free to be themselves, find their way to a tiny cafe in New York City.

"They are literally looking for a place at the table where they are accepted, but the table also becomes the place where that happens," White said.

The novel took White three years to complete: one year of research followed by two years of writing. White spent a whole summer in Manhattan to get on-the-ground experience.

"I had visited New York a lot, but I had never lived there," she said. "I felt that it was really important for me to understand the rhythm of the city."

The book takes place in several decades, including the late 1940s for Alice's story and the the 1980s when Bobby gets to the cafe. But it starts in 1929 in the North Carolina farming community where Alice grows up.White did extensive research to make sure she got the details of the late 1920s in North Carolina right.

"It was a challenge to write about a world that I had never been to," she said, "but I feel really good about how it came together."

White teaches creative writing at Emory University in Atlanta. She is also recently married and already started on her fourth book. She still finds plenty of time to cook, however.

"I've been making a lot of pound cake recently," White said. "In the book, Bobby's Meemaw (grandma) is famous for her pound cake. I bake it the way I imagine she would."

Follow Erin Shaw on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_ErinShaw.

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