Mark R. Lowery is the son of a preacher who seemingly never unpacked his bags, Mark lived in five states before reaching high school. A resident of Northeast Ohio, Mark has a communications degree from Rowan University in New Jersey. Learn more at markrlowery.com
A Q&A with the author of Wilfred’s Dream
Wilfred’s Dream (Black Opal Books) has generated quite a buzz on the Internet since its release in September. An Akron Beacon Journal review called the novel’s characters “strong and relatable” and another reviewer called the novel a “must read.”
We recently sat down with author Mark R. Lowery to discuss Wilfred’s Dream.
What inspired you to write Wilfred’s Dream?
My wife and I are big theater fans. It doesn’t really matter whether that’s professional, community or a college production. Several years ago, we were at Cleveland’s historic Karamu House watching August Wilson’s Joe Turner’s Come and Gone. As I was greeting the actors following their incredible performance, I began dissecting why I enjoyed the show so much. My enjoyment went past the acting and the execution of the play. A part of my enjoyment was because I appreciate entertainment that educates and informs about our rich history. August Wilson may have been the best ever at that.
I became fascinated with the thought of creating a novel that began in the past but did not stay there, that used a past event or period to examine the context of a current issue, in this case the violence strangling too many urban communities. That was the birth of Wilfred’s Dream.
What is Wilfred’s Dream about?
On one level, the novel is about three Cleveland, Ohio-area residents—a barber and two students at a historically black university—who are unknowingly tied together by a racially motived killing in Louisiana decades earlier. It follows their lives during a brief period and a subsequent tragic event that brings them together.
Are you at all concerned that some may cringe at what may be perceived as negative images of Cleveland, where the fictional story is set?
The story set in Cleveland, but it’s not a story about Cleveland. Unfortunately, it could have been set in any urban community in America where black and brown folks are slaughtering each other as if it were going out of style. So I would tell those folks not to let their view of the forest be blocked by the trees…and to instead join the debate and help find solutions for what must be done to reclaim our streets and neighborhoods.
What do you think must be done?
The goal of Wilfred’s Dream is to spark that debate—not to provide the answers. I will say that there are many pieces to a puzzle. And the answer to solving the problem of urban violence is probably not this or that, but a heavy dose of all of it. Whatever the answers are, I believe all African Americans must turn their focus to solving this problem. We can’t continue to ignore it or wait until it arrives at our doorstep. How many more lives must be lost before we act?
How did you come up with the character of Wilfred Foster—the young man whose racially motived murder is the genesis of your story?
That character is based on a real life young man who disappeared in Vidalia, Louisiana in 1964. I would challenge your readers to google Joseph Edwards and Vidalia, La. to learn his story. As evidenced by the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Ala., there are many stories like Mr. Edward’s. But you won’t find them in the history books at most of our schools.
Which authors influenced you as a writer?
Well. August Wilson as previously mentioned. But also Ralph Ellison, Alice Walker and to a lesser extent Upton Sinclair. In Ellison’s Invisible Man, I saw people with whom I could identify. That experience really set me off on a mission to read as many black authors as possible. In Walker’s The Color Purple (like Sinclair’s The Jungle), I saw the power the written word could have in sparking debate and shining a light on an issue. I don’t think I’ve ever read a fiction book that was as stirring or thought-provoking as The Color Purple.
Decades after migrating north to Cleveland, Ohio, from rural Louisiana, Tobias Winslow has made an uneasy peace with the past, including his own mistakes that led to a prison stint. News of a murdered son, and the daughter that son left behind, forces Tobias to reassess his past and restructure his plans for the future. Christian Taylor and Joey Breaux, meanwhile, are students at a historically black university who have vastly different worldviews, but are drawn together by an appreciation of family. All three—Tobias, Christian, and Joey—are unknowingly tied together by a racially motived killing in Louisiana decades earlier.