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In Ousmane Power-Greene's novel, a community comes together to outsmart white supremacist

Ousmane Power-Greene’s new novel, "The Confessions of Matthew Strong," draws on the author’s work as a history and Black studies professor at Clark University. One of the main characters is Allegra "Allie" Douglass, a Black philosophy professor who is confronted and abducted by a white supremacist, Matthew Strong.

As Power-Greene explains, he started writing the book in 2007, when Barack Obama was running for president.

Ousmane Power-Greene, author: When I first wrote it, it was really inspired by the ways in which people see the rise of African Americans in positions of power as a threat to them and the ways in which they use that to rally others around that. And when I started writing the novel, who could have known that January 6th would happen? And the ways in which, in a strange turn of events, the mainstreaming of white supremacy has been something that I really couldn't have imagined back then.

Nancy Eve Cohen, NEPM: How would you describe this book? It's a pretty complicated story.

"The Confessions of Matthew Strong" is a novel that explores a Black community, a Black philosopher named Allie Douglass, who's confronted by a white supremacist named Matthew Strong, who is intent on utilizing her in order to push forth his white supremacist mission, because he's convinced that a Black philosopher would be a person who people would see as legitimate.

And so, this is his twisted idea, his plot and his plan to preserve his ideas, even if he's ever captured and killed. Ultimately, it's a story about community and how communities come together when there's an existential threat. In this case, the threat comes in the form of Matthew Strong.

Would you read me a bit from the book; the beginning of the book?

My name is Allegra Douglass.
I am one of the survivors.
My story may make you angry. Not
necessarily at me, but about the reason things happened
the way they did. Only looking back can I put the
pieces together in a coherent manner, or at least in a
way that makes any sense at all.
As a philosopher, I am drawn to problems. I'm
fascinated by the relationship between ideas and
actions; ideas behind our motivations; ideas beneath
our fears. Some ideas, however, take you down paths
best left unexplored; ground best left undisturbed.

Your book is about people who are white supremacists, but it's also about a Black woman who was a leader in her own world. What do you want your reader to understand about the Black community that this woman was a part of?

 The book cover for "The Confessions of Matthew Strong," a new novel by Ousmane K. Power-Greene.
Other Press
The book cover for "The Confessions of Matthew Strong," a new novel by Ousmane K. Power-Greene.

Part of what's exciting about choosing the setting — the novel is set in Alabama and Jefferson County, which of course, Birmingham, Alabama, became very famous because the Civil Rights Movement — but what we learn in the novel is afterwards, right? It's sort of the rebuilding of Birmingham, the efforts in Jefferson County for Black people to to be a part of the county, a significant part of the county.

And so, when this movement happens — it's a contemporary white supremacist movement — the entire community is forced to come together and to realize that the only way in which communities can heal, but also solve this mystery, is by utilizing some networks. Old networks, church networks, community networks — in order to to figure out what happened to these young women who were kidnapped. Particularly mothers — the ways in which Black women and Black mothers who have had to deal with the reality of having a child lost or a child kidnapped or a child killed. Will it tear the community apart? Will it bring the community together?

What was it like for you to write in the voice of a woman?

It was terrifying, actually. This is one reason why you need a team of people working with you. I have a fantastic editor who's a woman. I have a fantastic agent who read parts and, of course, my mother, who read many parts and pointed out stuff that she thought was inconsistent, as well as my wife. And so, I've had a lot of support on that.

To write in the voice of a woman, you have to read a lot of women's work, particularly autobiographies. I drew from Angela Davis' autobiography, Assata Shakur's autobiography, as well as Elaine Brown's. Those are the three major Black women autobiographies that influenced my writing style-wise and the way in which I did it.

And I always tell people, the moment in which you stop seeing me and you see Allie Douglass, is when I've succeeded.

Nancy Eve Cohen is a senior reporter focusing on Berkshire County. Earlier in her career she was NPR’s Midwest editor in Washington, D.C., managing editor of the Northeast Environmental Hub and recorded sound for TV networks on global assignments, including the war in Sarajevo and an interview with Fidel Castro.
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