Maria interviews Lila Weaver, author of Darkroom.
UAP: Why Darkroom for your first publication?
Weaver: Serendipity played a major role. Publishing wasn’t something I ever expected to do, but the opportunity fell in my lap when editors from The University of Alabama Press saw an academic project of mine (a miniature graphic novel) and approached me about publishing.
UAP: Are there any key takeaways you hope readers get from the novel?
Weaver: My hope is that readers will find a point of identification with the story, no matter how small, and that this will lead them toward a richer understanding of the two main themes explored in the book: the racial landscape of the 1960s American South and the immigrant experience.
UAP: Where did the idea for the title come from?
Weaver: The title Darkroom fits the photographic motifs that appear throughout the book. It also references the darkest hours of the civil rights movement, during which exceptionally valiant people pushed against oppressive forces to bring about radical change.
UAP: How long had the idea to create Darkroom been with you before you pursued having it published?
Weaver: Darkroom sprang from an academic project that took me about three years to conceive and execute. As I explained previously, I didn’t actually pursue publication.
UAP: Was anything in the novel more difficult to write about than maybe other parts of the novel?
Weaver: Through most of the novel, my character is a pre-adolescent child. Drawing her and writing her story amounted to dealing with a third-person character. But by the last chapter, my character had become a teenager. I had a far tougher time approaching the depiction of the older kid because the emotional distance had closed in considerably. I was now dealing with a first-person character and that made my decisions on how to depict “her” rather self-conscious. Very tricky.
UAP: What was it like seeing the final published copy of Darkroom, knowing it was finally done and ready to go out to the public?
Weaver: It was exciting and nerve-racking. The moment of truth arrived when I got word that my first set of copies had been shipped from the warehouse. I tracked the package throughout the day for about a week until the tracking info read “out for delivery.” I didn’t dare go anywhere that day, but when the package arrived, I was so nervous I almost didn’t want to open it. Silly me.
UAP: Is there a chapter(s) you feel is the most significant?
Weaver: If I had to designate a single chapter as most significant, it would be Chapter 8, which deals with history-making events that occurred within a block of my childhood home.
UAP: Did you have to do any research in the process of putting together Darkroom?
Weaver: Yes, a great deal of research went into Darkroom. To get personal and family history as accurate as possible, I interviewed my siblings and pored through diaries, mementos, letters, and photographs. I even went to Marion Military Institute to look up my student records, in case they still had a letter from the dean of students on file. (They didn’t.) I read books and articles about the civil rights movement, mostly to verify historical details, and to achieve as much authenticity as possible, I researched photographic references of the era.
UAP: Darkroom also serves as your personal memoir. Can you explain this more?
Weaver: I never intended Darkroom to serve as history or journalism or anything other than a memoir. It is written from my point of view, although it also includes family experiences that I didn’t witness but that nevertheless influenced me, as well as broader observations about the culture.
UAP: A couple sections in the novel have black pages as backgrounds instead of the white pages throughout the book. Was there a certain effect you hoped this switch would have?
Weaver: Certain scenes occurred in absolute darkness, both physical and psychological. I wanted to convey the depths of that darkness as fully as possible, and this didn’t come through sufficiently when I placed those images against a white background.
UAP: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Weaver: As I was wrapping up Darkroom, the state legislature of Alabama began deliberating a house bill addressing the treatment of immigrant residents. HB56 became law, branding Alabama as the enactor of the harshest anti-immigrant law in the United States. This law closely parallels the two major themes of my book: racism and immigration. I wasn’t able to address HB56 in Darkroom because the timing wasn’t right, but I hope readers will connect the dots anyway.
Maria Sanders graduated from The University of Alabama in May. She is currently an intern at Scout Branding.