When Natalie Baszile started writing her first novel, she didn’t know it would take her on a journey most writers only dream about – having her work optioned by Oprah Winfrey and Ava DuVernay to become a hit television show on OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Network. It’s a story she’ll recall when she visits Florida Gulf Coast University’s Cohen Center Ballroom at 5:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 5.
“The story that I think is the most important, and that I think will resonate with the audience, is still the story of ‘Queen Sugar’ and what that was like for me as a younger writer,” Baszile said. “There’s a message there about perseverance. There’s a message there about following your passions and trusting yourself.”
Set in Louisiana, “Queen Sugar” follows Charley Bordelon as she inherits a sugarcane farm and tries to make it a profitable business. While agriculture sets the scene, Baszile’s book offers all readers a glimpse into modern African-American life. The novel did come first, but the OWN television series has connected her characters to a much broader audience.
“My hope for the show is that it would continue the conversation that I started in the book. I think, from what I have seen of this most recent season, they have continued to evolve the way the book would evolve if I were to write ‘Queen Sugar’ Vol. II,” Baszile said.
However, if she was writing her first novel today, Baszile says “Queen Sugar” would be a different story.
“When I wrote ‘Queen Sugar’ in those years, I was thinking about what was possible. I was optimistic and hopeful in a way that I am not so sure that I am hopeful now. I know I was willing to overlook some issues and questions because I wanted to see the goodness in people. I was interested in writing a book, while honest, that really celebrated the best in people and what people could be.
“I am no longer that person. I think my view now is more pragmatic. As an author, I am more interested in naming things and articulating a more unflinching view of the world than I was in ‘Queen Sugar,’” Baszile said.
With a new mindset and a desire to create something different from “Queen Sugar,” Baszile is working on another novel. She won’t say much about the new work, but she does share that it’s set in San Francisco and relates to many issues of our time. One thing is for sure: she is not concerned about this next book rising to the same level of success.
“I have many, many stories that I want to tell. I have more worlds I want to create. I am not interested in resting on my laurels and riding the success of ‘Queen Sugar.’ I don’t feel the pressure to have this new book optioned as a television series. The personal pressure that I feel is to tell another good story, to create characters who resonate with readers, to offer the same kind of depth and thoughtfulness in this new book, to explore new ideas and themes as masterfully as I possibly can,” Baszile added.
Even though she intends to create a “whole new realm,” Baszile admits that she writes about what she knows.
“In many ways, the themes of the book that I’m writing is a continuation of ‘Queen Sugar.’ It’s still addressing questions of race, class and how we operate as a society. It’s still addressing the question of telling a nuanced story about black people. This story must have range and scope and depth. It needs to be as truthful as ‘Queen Sugar’ was. I feel tremendous pressure to do that,” Baszile said.
This free event is sponsored by the Office of Community Outreach, the Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance, and the Office of Multicultural and Leadership Development.
To RSVP for Natalie Baszile’s presentation, visit https://www.eventbrite.com/e/natalie-baszile-author-of-queen-sugar-tickets-51216671443.