Natalie Baszile recently held a discussion and signing event at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh for her novel Queen Sugar. Following a lovely introduction by local author, Angela Epps, Baszile started off by announcing news she had just received that day. Queen Sugar was being optioned by Oprah’s Harpo Productions to become a dramatic series on the OWN network. The pilot would be written and produced by Selma director, Ava duVernay and Oprah had expressed interest in playing Violet. DuVernay will also be executive producer of the series.
Baszile started off by giving a synopsis of the book featuring a widowed single mother, Charley, and her 11-year daughter, Micah, relocating from Los Angeles to rural Louisiana after inheriting 800 acres of a sugar cane farm. Not only does Charley have to learn how to farm sugar cane but she also has to deal with community resentment as raising sugar cane is a predominantly white man’s business. All this while trying to raise a homesick tween daughter and navigate her brother enviousness regarding the inheritance. There’s also a romance thrown into the mix.
Baszile spoke extensively about how she chose sugar cane as the crop she wanted to be the focus of the book. While she was born in Louisiana, she migrated early in her life to California, eventually ending up in San Francisco. Her family, particularly her father, were more familiar with the rice and crawfish fields but Baszile wanted a more ‘romantic’ crop to be the center of her story. Finally, after conducting research and becoming discouraged with finding a suitable crop, a friend introduced her to a local sugar cane farmer. Initially, her research was via numerous phone calls with this local contact until he invited her to return to Louisiana to see how a sugar cane farming from planting to harvesting. Therefore, Baszile made several trips a year to immerse herself in the experience. The moment Baszile saw the sugar cane waving in the wind, she knew she had found the ideal crop for her novel.
Baszile then read from her novel the passage where Charley has convinced a local Black farmer to help her farm the land. He starts out by taking an inventory of the tools and machinery and what’s need to be repaired or purchased. The farmer then drives Charley to the fields and points out the several different strains of sugar cane on her land. He tells Charley to stop writing down what he’s talking about and instead asks her to just take it all in. He helps her understand emotionally what sugar cane farming is about.
After taking a few questions from the audience, Baszile finished up the evening with a signing. Queen Sugar is Baszile debut novel and is now available in paperback.