Email us to pre-order a signed copy of Robin Talley’s LIES WE TELL OURSELVES.
Check out this article from Publishers Weekly about the book.
'Lies We Tell Ourselves' Touches a Nerve, Through History
Set in 1959, Robin Talley’s searing debut novel, Lies We Tell Ourselves, explores one of the darker chapters of American history, when southern state governments made various attempts to circumvent the federal mandate to desegregate schools. Talley, whose two central female characters fall in love while their Virginia school is being desegregated—one is white, the other black—said she was inspired to set her tale during this rocky period by her parents, who both attended Virginia high schools during the desegregation period when many state high schools were closed.
“I started writing the novel in 2010,” Talley said, noting the idea came directly from her parents, who grew up in Virginia in the 1960s, and experienced the desegregation process firsthand. “The more they talked about early integration, I was blown away by how much I didn’t know,” she explained.
What Talley didn’t know is likely unknown to many: that the governors of certain states, including Virginia, shut down a number of schools in an attempt to stop them from being integrated. While wealthier white families in the communities dealt with the problem by sending their kids to private schools (or transferring them to other schools), black children, and poor white children, were in a tougher predicament.
Talley, who did three months of research on the desegregation period—she lives in Washington, D.C., and was able to take advantage of the Arlington, Va., library, which offered access to, among other things, a number of memoirs by then-local students—found that one school district was closed for five years by the state. In another district, Norfolk, Va., whose history of integration serves as the basis for that of the fictional town in Talley’s novel, she said that six schools were affected by desegregation, and 10,000 students. Many schools in Virginia, Talley explained, were shut from September 1958 to January 1959, and that’s the start of the period she covers in Lies We Tell Ourselves.”
The decision to make her characters gay was no mistake, either. Talley, a Lambda Literary Foundation Writers’ Retreat Fellow who works for a non-profit women’s rights organization in the Beltway, said all of her writing deals with LGBT themes. In Lies We Tell Ourselves, she always intended to tell a story about a girl discovering her sexual orientation. Setting the novel during desegregation, Talley explained, allowed her to have characters dealing with two major issues at once. She was intrigued to explore “what it would be like to be wrestling with both of those things at the same time.”
Now, with racism very much in the headlines after the recent police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., Talley is expecting conversations around Lies We Tell Ourselves to take on a more pressing aspect. Noting that she’s been a part of the We Need Diverse Books movement, Talley said she’s eager to see more titles about LGBT characters, people of color and disabled characters “get into the hands of young readers.” She also feels that, when it comes to the classroom, teaching the civil rights movement alongside the LGBT movement.
One teacher, Talley went on, using the hashtag #LGBTteach, explained how she showed her students historical records about interracial marriage being banned in the 1950s, and then compared this to the recent law the state of Arizona attempted to pass last year, banning gay people from being served in stores. (The Arizona law has also been dubbed, by some, a “Gay Jim Crow” law.)
Lies We Tell Ourselves, which is written in the present tense, is a novel Talley hopes will keep conversations about racism and hatred going. Noting that desegregation may seem like something that happened a long time ago, Talley said she “didn’t want [that era] to seem far away” in her novel. “We’ve seen in the past couple of weeks, with Ferguson, that we are by no means done with dealing with these issues.”