Praise for Leaving Tuscaloosa

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Walter Bennett’s “Leaving Tuscaloosa” brings a new voice to the Southern literary field, one that resonates with the deeply human stories of white segregationists, black Civil Rights advocates, and ordinary small town people in the deep South in the sixties. Every character is fully human, and when a frustrated high school boy sets things off with some late night hit-and-run pitching practice, aimed at the head of the town’s most powerful black preacher, every voice in town gets a chance to tell his or her side of things, resulting in a wide-open window into the beating heart of a time and place few from outside that time and place have been able to fully comprehend. Bennett’s narrative strategy, by including so many compelling voices, is compassionate and beautifully written. But it is Acee and his white boyhood friend Bo who will break your heart and leave you thinking about what was lost and gained during that era. A wonderful book for generating open and lively discussion, 50 years after a voice rose up from the deep South and said, “I have a dream today.”

Marjorie Hudson, Accidental Birds of the Carolinas

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You wouldn’t expect Richeboux Branscomb, a white teenager, and Acee Waites, a black cook, to cross paths very often in 1962 Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Richeboux and his fellow high-school friends occasionally crowd the Red Elephant Grill, wolfing down cheeseburgers with no regard for the man behind the grill. After eating at the Grill one summer night, Richeboux and his friends pile into a ’55 Ford and decide to take a joyride through Cherrytown, Tuscaloosa’s still-segregated black neighborhood, armed with eggs. When a late-night prank results in a fatality, touching off a chain of events that forces Richeboux and Acee to become better acquainted, both young men recognize each others’ aspirations, dreams, anger, and pain. A story of racial tension, upward mobility, and inner strength, Bennett’s Leaving Tuscaloosa is a compelling and all-consuming story. Richeboux, Acee, and other members of the community are expertly drawn characters with clear motives, set against a sweltering Alabama backdrop. Bennett has a fine ear for dialogue, seamlessly switching between Richeboux’s and Acee’s speaking patterns. Darker than Kathryn Stockett’s The Help (2009), Leaving Tuscaloosa is a haunting read.

 Stephanie Turza, Booklist

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“I’ve been there. I worked on the Tuscaloosa News in the early 70s, and I can tell you flat-out that Walter Bennett has a real gift for capturing time and place, and an absolute genius for creating his larger-than-life yet totally believable characters. Leaving Tuscaloosa is deeply moving, disturbing, haunting, and important. With vivid, muscular prose and great scene development, this fast-paced novel picks up speed until it truly embodies Bennett’s phrase: ‘Time’s freight train’ hurtling down the tracks.”

Lee SmithOn Agate Hill, The Last Girls

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“Leaving Tuscaloosa is all story. The characters are terrific, the setting is authentic, and the book explains what we need to know in the modern era. From the moment some teenage white boys are involved in a prank that kills a respected member of the black community, the book is unstoppable. As the crisis spreads, as the threat of violence builds, an entire era of American life comes alive. Compelling, important, and haunting.”

Craig NovaThe Good Son, Cruisers

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.“In Leaving Tuscaloosa Walter Bennett skillfully reawakens those days when segregation/integration seemed the core problem of the world. Rich character development and strong scenes of action make this novel an absorbing experience for the reader, whether Southern or not.”

Elizabeth Spencer, The Light in the Piazza, The Southern Woman

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“Like Isabel Wilkerson’s prizewinning, nonfiction work, The Warmth of Other Suns, Walter Bennett’s gritty novel, Leaving Tuscaloosa, uses multiple points of view to deliver a recollection from that horrific era in American history that led to the migration of thousands of African Americans out of the Deep South. The characters ring true and their fateful collision in the early 1960s must not be forgotten. This book should have a spot on college reading lists in political science, history, public policy, and sociology, in addition to its rightful study as a work of finely crafted fiction.”

Georgann EubanksLiterary Trails of North Carolina

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“A cliff-hanger cut from real historical drama, this story broadens the picture of the civil rights trail and situates us in the  midst of the freedom movement, portraying the harsh realities of the color line and the battle for human dignity. The author’s rich story-telling walks you into the sounds, sights, racial fears, and tensions between the dual worlds of blacks and whites and portrays the courage of ordinary people and their refusal to submit to a repressive social order. It is a vital format for preserving  and passing on the historical narrative that children of this generation don’t come to know. Civil rights history is a story of  American history and culture and of the relationships between the races which comes across in a gripping way in Leaving Tuscaloosa.”

Dr. Karyn Trader-Leigh, Diversity Consultant, KTA Global Partners, LLC

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“We may think we want to go back to the Deep South in 1962 when the Civil Rights Movement was being born. But are we prepared to live through those early years in the lives of two young men, one black and one white, in the small town of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, in a fully vivid, visceral way, no holds barred? Both lead characters wrestle with a terrible moral struggle. There is no way to do it ‘right.’ The characters come off the page. The scenes are memorable. Leaving Tuscaloosa recreates a time and place that is an integral part, a symbolic part, of our American history.”

Judy Hogan, Killer Frost, Founding Editor of Carolina Wren Press

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Bellwether Prize Finalist: Leaving Tuscaloosa was a finalist for the 2010 Bellwether Prize, a nation-wide competition founded and administered by Barbara Kingsolver for unpublished novels treating issues of social change.

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This stunning debut novel from Southern-based writer Walter Bennett, Leaving Tuscaloosa, weaves in elegant prose the life-threads of two men segregated by race but alike in their familiarity with aspiration blunted by loss.

Chapel Hill Magazine 

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America in the 1960’s was a powder keg of racial tension, both before the 1964 Civil Rights Act and, as we know, long after. This theme has been explored in literature countless times, a seemingly inexhaustible well of inspiration for writers, poets, filmmakers, teachers, historians, social scientists, politicians, and anyone else interested in not being doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past.

Arguably the most famous literary work to focus on this topic is Harper Lee’s iconic novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, in which young Scout Finch learns about the ugliness of racial discrimination over the course of one tension-filled summer. Certainly one of the most popular recent novels to explore the racial tension of the early 60’s was Kathryn Stockett’s The Help, which chronicles the unlikely friendship of two women who work together to anonymously expose the hardship of life as a maid and the dark underbelly of “separate but equal” in Jackson, Mississippi.

Walter Bennett’s debut novel, Leaving Tuscaloosa, crafts a story whose characters are involved in a moral, emotional and intellectual struggle. At the heart of the novel are two men, one black, one white, who are involved in a tragic situation. Set in the Deep South in 1962, Leaving Tuscaloosa tells the story of two young men whose lives are changed forever over the course of one night. This is Mr. Bennett’s first novel and it was a 2010 Finalist for the prestigious Bellwether Prize for Fiction, a nationwide competition founded and administered by Barbara Kingsolver to celebrate unpublished narratives that explore issues of social change.

Birmingham365.org

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Simply irresistible to a resident, past or present, of Tuscaloosa.

Don Noble, Alabama Public Radio

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Leaving Tuscaloosa is a powerful novel, set in 1962, a year when the Movement was stirring change and passions on all sides of the segregated South. The book takes place in a single week in Tuscaloosa, set in motion by four white teens who ride through the black section and insult a black minister, with the backdrop of a black young man who is being sought for riling people up to challenge The System.  As an evocation of Tuscaloosa at that time and of that liminal moment between the old and the challenge to it, with compelling characters all around, it’s riveting, often torrid, and as sometimes only fiction can be, true. Once I started the novel, its power and characters and vivid recreation of its time and place and people, swept me into the story and the world that unfolded in it.  I both couldn’t put it down, yet had to at times, just to catch my breath.

Syd NathansTo Free a Family: The Journey of Mary Walker

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A turn back in time, a glimpse of the past.  Leaving Tuscaloosa is a riveting story steeply based in real truth with the oppression of the south in the sixties as well as segregation and racism.  The characters are memorable and the writing is excellent, at times brilliant.  A very important book that brings issues of the past to light, but also, is thought-provoking enough to bring today’s issues into play as well.

Mindingspot            Goodreads

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The events in Leaving Tuscaloosa take place in just a day and a half, but as I read the novel, I felt thrust back in time to re-experience the dark decade between Brown vs. Board of Education and the Civil Rights Act. Walter Bennett has a particular gift for creating a sense of place, and wisely included in his novel a hand-drawn map to illustrate the severe racial divide–separate and unequal–in the Tuscaloosa of 1962. The story explores many emotions–anger, passion, violence and cruelty–while pulling the reader through with a gripping exploration of guilt and brotherly love. I read this fine novel swiftly the first time, flipping pages to see what was going to happen; I will read it again–slowly–to absorb the strength of the writing. Highly recommended!

Anna Jean Mayhew, Hillsborough, NC

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