Words by Heart
“I'm only comfortable writing about what I know, or think I know, and I've spent my life being either a daughter or a mother, and nearly twenty years being both at once, hands-on,” Ouida Sebestyen said in ALAN Review.
“Maybe, as an only child with an only child, I've been more aware of the parent-child ties and stresses than more thicklybranched, sibling-rich families are. While I was struggling with the technical aspects of plot, character, dialogue and all the rest, in those first books I may instinctively have chosen families as the subject matter I could feel—well, familiar with.”
“Sebestyen's characters provide the vehicle for dramatizing the themes,” Beverly Haley explained. “Family plays a central role in all three [of the writer's first] novels, but not family in the traditional sense. Words by Heart centers around a black family in an early 1900s all-white Western town. Lena, the protagonist, idolizes her father, Ben, and loves her young stepmother, Claudie, half brother Roy, half sister Armilla, and the baby. Ben Sills, who once studied to be a minister, forms the strength and the center of the family; and he demands of his family that each one be at once strong and gentle.”
“The eloquent story, though circumscribed in time and setting, dramatizes the black people's long struggle for equal opportunity and freedom,” Ethel L. Heins said. “The year is 1910: Ben Sills, ambitious for his children, has bravely moved his family from the comparative security of an all-black Southern town to take up life as