National bestselling author ReShonda Tate is taking on Hollywood in her first historical fiction project. I recently spoke with her about The Queen of Sugar Hill.
Tell me about your latest book.
The Queen of Sugar Hill is a fictional portrait of Hattie McDaniel, one of Hollywood’s most prolific but woefully underappreciated stars—and the first Black person ever to win an Oscar for her role as Mammy in the critically acclaimed film classic Gone With the Wind. It starts on the night in 1940, when Hattie won the historic award. The win was going to be life-changing. Or so she thought. The book tells the story of how after that night, not only did the Oscar curse set in where Hattie couldn’t find work, but she found herself thrust in the middle of two worlds—Black and White—and not being welcomed in either. Whites only saw her as Mammy, and Blacks detested the demeaning portrayal. As the NAACP waged an all-out war against Hattie and actors like her, the emotionally conflicted actor found herself struggling daily. Through it all, Hattie continued her fight to pave a path for other Negro actors, while focusing on war efforts, fighting housing discrimination, and navigating four failed marriages. Luckily, she had a core group of friends to help her out—from Clark Gable to Louise Beavers to Ruby Berkley Goodwin and Dorothy Dandridge. It’s a story of resilience, dedication, and determination—about what it takes to achieve your dreams—even when everything—and everyone—is against you.
How long did it take you to write it?
Between research and rewrites, three years!
Which character could you relate to the most and why?
I related to Hattie herself because she reminded me so much of my grandmother, who was a quiet change agent.
How are you celebrating the book’s release?
I am on a 17-city tour promoting the book, and I dedicate no less than eight hours a day to promoting and making people aware of the book.
Who is your author best friend (either in your head or in real life)?
I’ve been in this industry a while now, and I’ve built some pretty solid author friendships. My closest author friends would definitely be my former writing partner, Victoria Christopher Murray. She and I have a writer’s girlfriend group with Tiffany L. Warren and Renee Daniel Flagler, and we really work to keep each other motivated and encouraged. And then one of the writers who has been 10 toes down from the very beginning is Pat Tucker.
What is the most valuable piece of writing advice you’ve received?
Good books aren’t written…they’re rewritten. If you try to create the perfect book right out the gate, chances are you’ll become frustrated and disheartened.
What books have you read lately and loved?
What books are you excited to read?
When I’m not reading historical fiction, I love suspense and thrillers. I’m looking forward to reading American Daughters by Piper Hughley and A Taste of Honey a poetry collection edited by Kwame Alexander
What’s next for you?
I’m already hard at work on my next historical fiction title based on the life of Hazel Scott, one of the biggest jazz singers in the country, who was married to Congressman Adam Clayton Powell. She was bigger than Sarah Vaughn and Billie Holiday, yet few people know about her because she was deemed a Communist for speaking out for Black rights, and subsequently erased from Houston.
Do you have anything you would like to add?
I’m just really excited to be able to tell Hattie’s story. We have looked at her through our 21st century lenses, and I hope to help people shed that so they can see Hattie for the legend that she was.
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To learn more about national bestselling author ReShonda Tate, visit her website or connect with her on social media.