Richmond author debuts historical fiction novel inspired by ‘strong women’

RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) – A Richmond author hopes to encourage others to learn about stories from the past through historical fiction.

Sadeqa Johnson’s first novel, The Yellow Woman, won several awards. It was inspired by the life of Mary Lumpkins, who survived and eventually freed the brutal Lumpkins Slave Prison in Richmond.

“It’s really important to me to amplify black voices in my stories,” Johnson said.

In her latest novel, The House of Eve, readers are transported back to 1950s Philadelphia and Washington DC. The story explores motherhood, colorism, classicism, education and love, told through the eyes of two young women named Ruby and Eleanor.

1950s Philadelphia: Fifteen-year-old Ruby Pearsall is on her way to becoming the first in her family to attend college, despite her mother being more interested in keeping her husband than raising her daughter. But a taboo love affair threatens to drag her back into the poverty and despair assigned to her by birth.

Eleanor Quarles arrives in Washington, DC, with ambition and secrets. When she meets handsome William Pride at Howard University, they fall madly in love. But William comes from one of DC’s elite rich black families, and his parents don’t let just anyone into their fold. Eleanor hopes that the baby will finally make her feel at home in William’s family and give her the life she’s been looking for. But having a child – and fitting in – is easier said than done. As their stories collide in the most unexpected ways, Ruby and Eleanor will both make decisions that will shape the trajectory of their lives.

Eve's house
Eve’s house(NBC 12)

“For me, what I write are our stories. We stand on the shoulders of women – and without them we wouldn’t exist either. [I also write about] impossible decisions they had to make throughout history,” she explained.

Johnson’s family was close to her heart as she spent nearly two years writing The House of Eve. Her mother was born in secret. A secret the family kept for years because Johnson’s grandmother got pregnant at 14.

Sadeqa Johnson with her mom (L) and grandmother (R).
Sadeqa Johnson with her mom (L) and grandmother (R).(Sadeqa Johnson)

“It took me on this journey of researching these homes for single women. A startling discovery was that between 1945 and 1975, 1.5 million babies were delivered to these homes. I say she surrendered because those girls were young,” she said. “Sometimes they were forced, they were forced. They were ashamed to give up their children. So I was trying to figure out, well, what options my grandmother had. As I was researching, I couldn’t find any black women in the story.”

The Florence Crittenton House was founded as a place for "reform
The Florence Crittenton Home was established as a place for “the reformation of ‘fallen women’ and the preaching of salvation and hope and the provision of refuge to unmarried, pregnant women and girls.”(Sadeqa Johnson)

Writing stories based on black history is Johnson’s way to help teach others and preserve the stories of the past.

“I wish [readers] take away that we come from strong people. The stories and history of black people are not a single narrative, they are colorful and full of celebration, love and family. Family doesn’t always look one-sided,” Johnson said.

She hopes people will read her novels and work to learn more about the people who paved the way.

“There are people I wrote about that you can look up. One is Dorothy Porter. She spent 40 years designing the library at Howard University, which is the largest compilation of black and African studies. I wrote about her in [The House of Eve]”, explained Johnson. “So you can look her up and find out more because she’s an unsung hero.”

House of Eve is Johnson’s fifth novel. He will celebrate the book’s release with a tour starting in Richmond.

Johnson says she took ten years to write and publish her first book, all while working as a publicist.

“I worked at Scholastic Books. I worked on the first three Harry Potter books. I have autographed books in my house. That was the beginning of the journey. I always knew I wanted to write,” she said.”

She continued to write, even as she worked to help others publish their work. There were waits and occasional rejections along the way, but Johnson was determined. As people around the world continue to read her books, she hopes to continue writing and inspire others to do the same.

“I say just try it. Don’t let the story die inside you. Stories choose us. That story chose you,” she said. “I’m finally here. It’s been years and years and years of work to get to the point where anyone will be interested in my name and what book I’m going to write next. It feels like it’s been a long time coming, but I also feel like I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be right now.”

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