I felt both touched and challenged by Professor Miles' suggestion that we broach the difficult topics of race and American history through art. Tomorrow I begin the 100-day countdown to the release of my novel, *The Secrets of Mary Bowser,* which is indeed inspired by the amazing story of a woman born into slavery in Richmond, Virginia, who, after being educated in the North, returned to the South and during the Civil War posed as a slave in the Confederate White House to spy on Jefferson Davis on behalf of the Union. She passed her messages to the Union command through a spy ring run by her former owner.
If the historical record held enough documentation to write a biography of Bowser, I would have done so, but it does not, and so I turned to fiction. Although I have degrees in both history and literature, it is thrilling as well as daunting to make the leap to imagining the words and deeds of this amazing woman, and also of the many blacks and whites she must have interacted with, from abolitionists to slave owners, from staunch Confederates to Southern Unionists. I'm sure that in the months to come, there will be people who question my choice to fictionalize history, and I will treasure Tiya Miles' words, and I hope emulate the grace and thoughtfulness she brings to the continuing national discussion of how our past shapes who we are as Americans, and who we can be.
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