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Hush Harbor – A Novel About Justice, Sacrifice & Love

April 21, 2024, in Articles > Books, by

Anise Vance, a biracial Baha’i living in the United States, has written a debut novel about racial justice. Hush Habor was long-listed for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize and was listed as a “Most Anticipated Book” in The Rumpus as well as a “Most Anticipated Crime Fiction Book of Fall 2023” in CrimeReads. Published by Harper Collins, this book explores issues of resistance, belonging, and justice in the context of police violence on black bodies.

I’m so grateful to Anise for taking the time to tell us about his book.

Author Anise Vance

Can you tell us a little about yourself?

Happily! My name is Anise. I live in Carrboro, North Carolina with my wife and two young children. My father is black American and my mother is Iranian American. My parents were pioneers, so I grew up bouncing between various countries—Cote D’Ivoire, Kenya, Botswana, and Egypt. I also had the chance to live in Canada and Northern Ireland before settling in the United States. My wife and I have been living in North Carolina for nine years now—the longest I’ve lived anywhere—and are continuing to grow roots in this truly lovely part of the world.

Outside of family life and service to the Cause, I’m terribly boring. I love books, basketball, and birdwatching (and, I promise, I’m not listing those just for the alliteration). I’m also something of a coffee snob. I can certainly be talkative, but I tend toward introversion and find large social settings tricky sometimes. So, if ever I meet a reader of this blog in person, please excuse any awkwardness; I swear, I’m enjoying the conversation even if it doesn’t always show.

Can you tell us a little bit about Hush Harbor?

Hush Harbor revolves around a simple premise: what if the murder of a black person at the hands of police resulted in an armed resistance group? This sounds outlandish, but history (and even the present), tells us it’s not so far-fetched.

In the novel, a fictional city called Bliss, New Jersey erupts into protests when a black teenager is killed by police officers. The movement’s leaders—Jeremiah and Nova Prince, a pair of siblings—take up arms when the officers involved in the shooting are exonerated. The Princes attempt to create a sanctuary of sorts, a place where they can create society rooted in principles of justice, compassion, and love. They name their movement Hush Harbor after the secret places enslaved persons would meet to pray using their own languages, traditions, and songs.

As the pressure around Hush Harbor builds—it is threatened by both government forces and white supremacist groups—the Princes must make increasingly difficult decisions around what actions can and should be taken in the name of justice. They must come to terms with what they are willing to sacrifice—and for whom.

What inspired you to write it?

The novel is, clearly, a direct response to the murders of so many black folks by law enforcement. I started writing it with seriousness and intention after the murders of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and Tamir Rice. That was in 2014.

The idea for the novel, though, arose when I was living in Northern Ireland and studying the Troubles. I was in graduate school and pursuing research on conflict. As part of my research, I interviewed current and former paramilitary members, and realized just how easily violent conflict can emerge in peaceful settings and peaceful hearts. I began thinking, is the same thing possible in the United States? Remember: black folk have been killed, abused, and otherwise mistreated by government forces since the country’s inception. The possibility of revolution—indeed, the historical pursuit of it by figures like Nat Turner and movements like the Black Panther Party—is anything but fiction.

So, I wondered to myself, why isn’t there a gritty, realistic, thought-provoking novel that speculates on a black armed resistance group? It felt like a giant hole in our literary canon. And it felt like a hole that needed to be filled, urgently.

Could you tell us about the spiritual principles that informed either the plot or your writing practice?

The novel revolves around three spiritual concepts: justice, sacrifice, and love. These are three concepts that are, in my estimation, deeply entwined.

Given the reality of an unjust world in which power is mis-conceptualized, abused, and hoarded, it is strikingly apparent that the pursuit of justice requires sacrifice. We can easily see the sacrifices required of those who hold and are unwilling to relinquish an abundance of power, but let’s not forget that champions of justice (Baha’i and otherwise) walk paths that often require they relinquish some degree of wealth, status, comfort, and individual pursuit.

Perhaps more profoundly, walking a path of justice often necessitates the reconceptualization of the individual. In that process—one which is, of course, never at an end—I think we find meaning, strength, and joy in bonds of love to our families, our communities, and to the Central Figures of the Faith. We begin to understand ourselves less as single organisms and more as cells inextricably bound by love to many other cells in a single human organism. The sacrifices that naturally flow from that understanding begin to shape our lives.

The characters in Hush Harbor are not Baha’is and have never been exposed to Baha’u’llah’s teachings. Yet they are keenly aware of the relationships between justice, sacrifice, and love, and act according to their own understanding of those relationships. In that, there are, of course, many things that these characters do that we, as Baha’is, would not; there are also many questions they raise with which, I think, we all still grapple.

Who is its audience? What do you hope your readers will take away with them long after they’ve finished reading?

I wrote the novel, first and foremost, for black audiences. There’s no ambiguity about that. Second, I wrote it for folks who conceive of themselves as partners in the great work of healing racial wounds. Third, I wrote it for folks who may conceive of themselves as socially engaged but have not yet come to full grips with the degree of grief and anger that exists around racial injustices. And, finally, I wrote the book as a kind of warning. In that final sense, I wrote it for everyone.

What I would like for readers to take away is simple: catharsis at seeing a full expression of their grief and rage on the page (and a kind of relief at seeing, written somewhere, the very thoughts and struggles they may have wrestled with); and a tremor of hope, that we, as humanity, can and have walked into the darkest futures and come out alive.

What are you working on now?

Another novel! Goodness, it’s a mess. Hush Harbor honored much of my black identity—some of the landmarks in it are even named after my ancestors who were enslaved. The next novel will honor much of my Iranian identity. It wrestles with conceptions of home, nationhood, and borders in the context of climate change refugees.

Thank you so much, Anise! Congratulations on your novel and we wish you all the best with your next book!

You can purchase Hush Harbor from you local bookseller or from a variety of online retailers such as Amazon.

Posted by

Sonjel Vreeland

In her innermost heart, Sonjel is a stay-at-home parent and a bookworm with a maxed out library card but professionally she is a museologist with a background in English Literature. She currently lives on Prince Edward Island, an isle in the shape of a smile on the eastern Canadian coast. Sonjel is a writer who loves to listen to jazz when she's driving at night.
Sonjel Vreeland

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