Night Wherever We Go
by Tracey Rose Peyton
Interview by Diane Slocum
Six women are a struggling Texas plantation’s only slaves. They labor in the cotton fields and carry out other daily chores, but it isn’t enough to keep the farm thriving. So, the Lucys (as they call the plantation owners, short for Lucifer) bring in a “stockman” to impregnate the women so the farm can make money by selling the children. But Nan, the healer of the group, knows how to use herbs to prevent or terminate a pregnancy. The women band together despite their different personalities and backgrounds to foil the plan, all risking the consequences if they are found out. Along the way, they struggle with the other hardships of an enslaved existence on an impoverished estate as well as their relationships with each other and with male slaves from other plantations. There are also complications for them whenever Lizzie, the mistress of the plantation becomes pregnant.
AUTHORLINK: What gave you the idea for this story? What was the first scene or line that came to you?
“Many moons ago, I was reading Paula Gidding’s When and Where I Enter, an amazing political social history…”
PEYTON: Many moons ago, I was reading Paula Gidding’s When and Where I Enter, an amazing political social history of Black women in America. And in one chapter, she writes about resistance among enslaved woman and how some women purposefully used abortives and contraceptives to resist having children and maintain some degree of autonomy over their own bodies. She includes the story of one planter who kept 4-6 women of child-bearing age on his farm, and in 25 years, only two children were born. The women on the farm always miscarried by the fourth month. Even when the planter swapped out one or two women, the birth rate remained unchanged. Later, it was revealed an old woman on the plantation had been giving the younger women herbal abortives. So, I was just blown away by that anecdote and it raised so many questions in my mind about who those women might have been, what obstacles they would have faced, and how they managed to resist in this way for as long as they did.
AUTHORLINK: What did you plan for your characters’ personalities and backstories ahead of writing and what just emerged?
“I didn’t plan a lot of that early on, but I knew I wanted to include a good deal of diversity…”
PEYTON: I didn’t plan a lot of that early on, but I knew I wanted to include a good deal of diversity within the ages, faiths, and experiences of the characters to puncture the idea of a monolithic enslaved experience. And within that, I knew there were a number of stories I wanted to tell about marriage and separation, motherhood and loss, spirituality, etc., and I allowed that to inform how the characters developed, what they each wanted, and how that sometimes created friction between them and other characters.
AUTHORLINK: The enslaved women are the central focus of the story, but sometimes you write in the point of view of other characters such as Lizzie and Harlow, and even the stockman. How did that add to the story?
PEYTON: I think it’s a less interesting book if the white characters or the stockman are cartoonish villains. I’m interested in the ways people are complex and the psychology required to engage in heinous behavior. What allows someone to justify the fiction that they can “own” another human being? And how does that fiction corrupt and enact violence upon everyone involved?
AUTHORLINK: Rather than always writing for a single person, there are times when you use first person plural “we.” Can you explain why you used that technique?
“My goal with using the “we” was to access a collective consciousness.”
PEYTON: My goal with using the “we” was to access a collective consciousness. Part of that aim is to destabilize and defamiliarize the historical context a bit. In the American popular imagination, most people’s image of slavery is Gone with the Wind or Monticello—huge white houses, palatial estates, and a workforce of a hundred or so enslaved people working cotton. So, I’m hoping to trouble that by utilizing the first-person plural, with the structure, with a small farm, etc.
I was also interested in the idea of this group of women who were essentially strangers, now being forced to live and operate as a unit. How that could breed friendship and sisterhood among them, but also, friction and contempt.
AUTHORLINK: What did you do for research?
PEYTON: Fortunately for me, I was researching at a time where a lot of scholars were publishing super exciting books about different areas of black life, such as marriage, herbalism, midwifery, childhood, etc. So, I read a lot of scholarship, in addition to primary sources, like letters and journals of slaveholders as well as published slave narratives (while being mindful of all the historical issues that comes along with those sources). Lastly, I read a lot about Texas history and geography, and even took an herbalism class.
AUTHORLINK: How did you get your title?
PEYTON: There’s a Lucille Clifton poem where she writes, “It’s night in my room…” And the phrasing of that struck me—that specificity of night for the speaker in the poem. For my characters, night contains so many things. It’s a space of freedom but it’s also a space of containment & horror. And I was interested in a title that could encompass the multiplicity of their experience.
AUTHORLINK: What do you hope people get out of your book besides enjoying the story?
PEYTON: The electronic band, Little Dragon, has this song, “After the Rain,” that I always felt described America perfectly. “We’re a nation of forgetters,” is a line from the chorus. So, by telling a story like this, I see myself trying to do that work of recovery Toni Morrison talks about, even as I’m mindful of expecting a depiction of black pain/experience to do some kind of educational or redemptive work for audiences. It’s more about an accounting, of past silences and erasures that must be reckoned with before any kind of repair (both within black communities and with the nation at large) can happen.
AUTHORLINK: What are you working on next?
PEYTON: A few short stories and a TV pilot, while slowly brainstorming a new novel.
About the author: Tracey Rose Peyton received an MFA from the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas at Austin. She has published fiction in American Short Fiction, Prairie Schooner, The Best American Short Stories 2021, and other publications. Night Wherever We Go is her first novel.