The books we read as children shape us. But for the majority of kids, those books don’t reflect them or even the realities of the historical times that they represent. A new series of books from Macmillan aims to correct that. Remixed Classics showcases some of the best contemporary authors taking on literature’s most revered titles.
Here at Nerdist we’re highlighting the first two novels in two exciting features, beginning with Bethany C. Morrow’s So Many Beginnings. It’s a beautifully written and utterly vital take on Little Women. The bestselling author introduces us to the March family in a recently emancipated Black Freedpeople’s Colony during the Civil War. There she explores Black girlhood, US history, and family. And in doing so reframes one of the quintessential American stories. To celebrate the release of the gorgeous and necessary reimagining of Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel, Nerdist chatted with Morrow over email.
Nerdist: Did you have a connection or favorite memory of Little Women before being approached about the project?
Bethany C. Morrow: Like so many of my generation, I of course had an affinity for the 1994 adaptation starring Winona Ryder. But more than that, and in what seemed a very solitary growing aversion, I’d begun to recognize that this particular property had become one of those oft-adapted classics, all of which shared some variation on the same theme of white innocence. Just as imaginations don’t evolve in a vacuum, neither is it particularly useful to isolate a property and refuse to see its place and purpose among the canon. When taken with others, it became annoyingly obvious to me that Little Women had become studios’ safe space for lily-white productions, regardless of the larger cultural conversations and movements. It was disproportionately adapted—along with the Austen canon—but always the same way: monochromatically.
What were your main aims and inspirations when it came to how you were going to reimagine this story?
My singular aim was to tell a truer story of the United States in 1863. A truer story of the chaos, the community, the abolitionists, the Union, the recently and sometimes self emancipated. It was to keep only the universal elements of a story so often hailed as wholly universal. Keeping only the March family and Lorie (Laurie), and the abundant familial love, I wanted to tell the story of a Black quartet of sisters starting over in a country that claimed to be doing the same.
Bethany C. Morrow
The real historical setting is key to your story, what went into the research and planning for telling it?
My answer will always begin with Patricia C Click’s Time Full of Trial, about the Roanoke Island Freedpeople’s Colony, which existed from 1862 through 1867. I cannot for the life of me figure out how I knew of the colony’s existence, except to reference the oral curricula that exists and persists in the Black American experience. Click’s research and stunning collation of documents, figures, correspondences, and more, made up the lion’s share of my research, but there were also dissertations on the Outer Banks during the war and Reconstruction era, as well as geological papers.
Little Women is such an iconic pillar of the literary world, especially when it comes to books that kids read, how did it feel to take it on?
It felt necessary to disrupt the lionization.
What are you hoping that readers get from your reimagining of this story?
I hope they get a sense of reality, of actual history, and a corresponding skepticism and dismay at the curation and mythology to which they’re relentlessly exposed.
Is there a moment, page turn, or character beat you’re most excited about readers discovering when they pick up the book?
It would be impossible to choose. It is a new Little Women, and a true Little Women. I can’t wait for them to read it all.
So Many Beginnings is available now.