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Shadows in the Fire:

Now Available From Five Star

Received a mailbag byline in The New Yorker (12/18 and 12/25, 2017.) Here's the text:

Monumental Decisions

In his piece on the recent push to remove Confederate monuments in Richmond, Virginia, Benjamin Wallace-Wells describes both pro-monument and anti-monument activists (“Battle Scars,” December 4th). But there is a middle ground: Richmond could create a National Slave Memorial. A proposal for a slave memorial has been languishing in Congress since 2003, and, if legislators ever advance it, the most popular idea seems to be to place the memorial on the National Mall, in Washington, D.C. That would be a mistake. Just as Germany’s Holocaust Memorial is in Berlin, so must America’s recognition of its own despicable chapter in history be placed in a former capital of the Confederacy. The creation of a National Slave Memorial in Richmond could justify the preservation of these monuments by rendering them components within a wider historic context. Turn Richmond’s Monument Avenue into a two-mile-long outdoor museum of American self-examination and redress. If well conceived, such a site would convey an aesthetic meaning precisely opposite to the monuments’ original intent. Rather than symbolizing racist defiance, they would stand for the defiance of racism.
Gray Basnight
New York City

April, 2015 marked the sesquicentennial of the Confederate evacuation of Richmond, which heralded conclusion of The Civil War

Wise beyond her years, Miss Francine is a twelve-year-old slave girl in Richmond, Virginia, the capital of the Confederacy during The Civil War.

As a housegirl in a key urban center, she endures the hardships of bondage as well as the oddity of being privately treated as a daughter by her mentally ill white mistress. She dreams of finding her real mother and eventually marrying her fiancé.

Then comes three days in April 1865 when everything about her life and the city of Richmond is dramatically transformed.

With the Union army approaching, the city explodes with fear and violence. White citizens evacuate in panic. Retreating Confederate soldiers burn stores of tobacco which unintentionally sets the city to flames. White stragglers loot what’s left as newly freed slaves parade in celebration.

Amid this upheaval, Miss Francine is abandoned and forced into a world gone mad with debauchery and depraved assault. Along the way, she crosses paths with a tall man who walks with a lanky gait whom the other slaves call Massa Lincomme, and proclaim, “Moses done come.”

During her courageous journey of survival, she is transformed from child to adult, from girl to woman, from human chattel to American citizen.

The Daily Press(Covering Hampton Roads and Newport News, Virginia)

The Frederick News-Post


Radio interview with Mr. Ian Willams of "Catskill Review of Books," for WJFF Radio, Jeffersonville, NY


A Brief Reading from "Shadows in the Fire"


..........Meet Miss Francine:

For my mother, there was nothing. But when I take time before rising to begin my labors, I wonder where she is. I wonder what she looks like and if I may favor her. The only knowledge I have is her name. She was called Miss Avery-Ann Pettigrew. And like me, she was a slave, which means she cast no shadow just as I cast no shadow. That is because a slave is a shadow, a mere dark reflection of its owner’s godly glow. Like all shadows, the owner sees us plain when he wishes, but takes no notice when not inclined to cast a downward gaze. And when we get sent away or sold-off, there is nothing left behind.

..............Miss Francine Walks with the Tall Man:

New arrivals of slaves wanting to know what was what were advised in hushed tones: “Massa Lincomme in de haus”…“He done come to Rishmun”…“Massa Lincomme”… “Massa Likum”…“Oh, Massa Linnkoam.” It was a repeated whisper that passed among the crowd like a prayerful verse.


Like most historical fiction, the story is told from the point of view of an onlooker to history, not a mover or shaker, not Jefferson Davis or Robert E. Lee, but the most vulnerable character Basnight could conjure up: a 12-year-old slave girl, Francine Pegram.

Don Noble, Alabama Public Radio
April, 2015

Gray Basnight, a longtime resident of New York, prizes his roots as a native of Richmond and puts them to use in “Shadows in the Fire” (363 pages, FiveStar, $25.95).
Basnight’s novel tells the story of Miss Francine, a 12-year-old slave who lives in Richmond during the Civil War. During the course of the story, she becomes an adult and an American citizen.

Basnight, a great-grandson of a member of the Confederate secessionist movement, dedicates his novel to his belief “that an American Slave Memorial rightfully belongs on Richmond’s Monument Avenue in remembrance, honor, and apology.”

Richmond Times-Dispatch 4/11/15

I thought I’d heard about all I’d ever need to know about The Civil War, from Twain to Oprah, about slavery and its consequences, about the misery of war, but I was wrong. Gray Basnight, a native of Richmond and now a New Yorker, has given me new insights plus a crackling good yarn.

In "Shadows in the Fire" we have the last days of Richmond under the Confederacy. We have it in flames and the old order passing. We have love, we have hate, and we have someone hungry enough to eat a rat. There is a brief visit by Lincoln and a terrific surprise near the end that somehow reveals in a nutshell the complexity of slavery and its aftermath.

No one, Civil War buff or otherwise, should miss this one.

John Bowers
Author of "Stonewall Jackson: Portrait of a Soldier"


*Digitizing Slave Research*

........................More to Come...