NHWP: Manchester novelist explores divisions between and within races

N.H. Writers Project
Published: 12/6/2019 2:57:59 PM
Modified: 12/6/2019 2:57:47 PM

Manchester resident and author Masheri Chappelle recently released the second edition of her latest novel, The Oracle Files: Escape. In October, the book received the 2019 New Hampshire Literary Award for Outstanding Work of Fiction. The Oracle Files: Escape is both entertaining and insightful. It provides a captivating story that shines a light on the divisions between and within races that have stemmed from slavery and are still present today.

In her latest book, Chappelle revisits the “Blue Vein Society” from her first novel, The Descendant. The “Blue Vein Society” is one in which an African American’s skin is light enough to reveal blue veins, which enables them to pass for white. In some instances, it was also believed that a “Blue Vein” status had more European ancestry, which would also mean a higher social standing.

“I decided to focus on The Descendant’s matriarch, Elizabeth Beeson Chase, and how she came to be,” said Chappelle. “The Oracle Files: Escape is about Elizabeth Beeson Chase’s rise from slave to Quaker to ‘Blue Vein’ socialite in 1850 New York.”

Although Elizabeth escaped physical slavery, she is emotionally and spiritually bound to balance four worlds: the Black, the White, the Spiritual, and the Physical. Elizabeth not only passes for white, but she is also psychic. As an intuitive consultant, Chappelle used a lot of her own psychic experiences to convey Elizabeth’s psychic skills and events. However, despite Elizabeth’s psychic ability, she still endures painful losses when she is forced to give up her first love and her first child because their skin is dark, and she passes for white.

“The idea for this book came when I was 33 years old. My mother and I were sitting at my kitchen table with my then 3-year-old daughter when my mother referred to her half-sister as ‘high yella,’ ” Chappelle said. “Up until that jarring moment at my kitchen table, and to their credit, my parents never exposed me to any racist experiences, language, or sentiment as I was growing up. For that, I will be forever grateful. Although I didn’t know what ‘high yella’ meant, I immediately knew it was bad. I wondered if my mother would express the same disdain when talking about my daughters, who are Jewish, African American and Native American. I created The Oracle Files series to address the issue of colorism within my family and the African American community and what we can do to heal it. Healing begins with dialogue, even if that dialogue comes from a novel.”

Chappelle began writing at age 13 when her father’s boarder gave her an industrial-sized, celery green, Olympian typewriter that was bigger than she was. “I could not lift it or carry it. To move it to my bedroom, at my father’s apartment in Harlem, I had to put it on a sheet and pull it across the linoleum floor. Thank goodness we used beacon wax on our linoleum, it helped the Olympian slide down the hall on the sheet a lot easier.” She typed her first story on the Olympian – a Chinese short story for children about a young boy who wanted to help a duck learn to swim.

In addition to writing novels, Chapelle is also an award-winning playwright and Smith Scholar graduate from Smith College. During the day, she has a full-time job as a data analyst and is the chairwoman of the New Hampshire Writers Project. In the evenings and on weekends she meets with clients and provides intuitive readings, which does not leave her much free time to write.

“If I want to write, I am at my computer at 5 a.m., sometimes 4:30 a.m. if I know my character has a lot to say. I will also write at the end of the day, from 9 to midnight if I am not too tired,” she said.

“Thankfully, the view from my office energizes me. My window overlooks my perennial gardens, and I can hear my mini waterfall and fountain. To be in the city and have a little garden oasis is the best of both worlds. I am so lucky that I get to do all that I do.”

Chappelle is finishing her full-length play, The Observation Deck, and is working on book two of the series, The Oracle Files: Freedom.

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