Courage and Authenticity

I work with a lot of mystery and thriller writers. Often our discussions about a manuscript include writerly terms like “escalating fear” and “a pervasive sense of dread” and “an authentic voice.”  Getting fear and dread on the page using a believable voice is what a writer tries to do to craft a suspenseful story.

Authenticity, or writing with authority, is what makes a reader believe the writer’s words.

There are many good examples of stories that effectively combine fear, dread, and authenticity. What follows is a masterful one–perhaps because it is non-fiction, though it could work just as well as a fictional piece. I am glad it is not; it is good to know that there have been people in the world with this kind of necessary courage.

Every Sunday, I receive a short story by email through a project of the Library of America called Story of the Week. Sign up is available through their website.

Yesterday’s story was A Negro Tourist in Dixie written by Bettye Rice Hughes. It appeared in a magazine called The Reporter in April, 1962. This story is an account of Miss Hughes’ experiences when she toured the South as a woman traveling alone. Her goal was to record the reception she received in public restaurants and bus stations, but also to compare that reception to the hostile and violent encounters experienced by the Freedom Riders.

This is not a mystery or thriller story. It was real. I am humbled not only by Miss Hughes’ courage, which is great, but also by the beauty of her simple, elegant prose.

Here is her story, in her own words full of fear, dread, authenticity–and courage.

A Negro Tourist in Dixie  by Bettye Rice Hughes, January 16, 2012, Story of the Week.