Writers’ Workshop Grad returns with debut novel


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Almost a month after the publication of her popular first novel and two weeks of signings, tours, and talks, author Naomi Jackson came home to Iowa City on Monday night to talk about her writing and the success of the Star Side of Bird Hill.

Two years after graduating from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Jackson said she did not expect to have such success with the novel.

“The whole thing came as a complete surprise,” she said. “I had no idea a story about two girls living in Barbados would be something a lot of people would want to read.”

The book tells the coming-of-age story of two sisters, Dionne and Phaedra, who start new lives living in Bird Hill, Barbados, with their grandmother after their mother can no longer care for them.

Originally from Brooklyn, both sisters learn important lessons about community, love, and heritage as they try to adjust to their new lives in Barbados.

Jackson, who was both born and raised in Brooklyn and had family in Barbados, said she took a lot of inspiration from her experiences in the country as a youth after spending many summers there.

“It wasn’t an overnight success story; there was a lot of trial and error,” she said.

Jackson said she originally started working on the novel in December 2009, two years before she was accepted into the Writers’ Workshop.

After being rejected twice, she finally got into the program in 2011. After graduating from the workshop in 2013, she returned home to New York.

Jackson spoke in Iowa City on Monday at Prairie Lights, 15 S. Dubuque St., as part of the tour for her book.

“We’re very excited to have her read; it’s a terrific book,” said Kathleen Johnson, an events coordinator at Prairie Lights.

Johnson said she had read the book before it was on the shelves.

“When the publisher contacted me about setting up the reading, I was already excited because I knew what book they were talking about,” she said.

Jackson said she was excited about the reading and loves going to events to address her new book.
“I actually get really pumped up by these events,” she said.

Attendees at the reading asked the author what inspired her to write the book and how she developed the novel.

Attendee Deshawn Winslow said he found both the reading and the book enticing.

“I’m only a quarter of the way through, but what I’ve read so far has been very enthralling,” he said.

Johnson said she thinks Jackson has a strong career in writing ahead of her.

“What’s particularly exciting, is it’s obvious from this book she will become an important writer,” she said.

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