“Not since Marita Golden’s Migrations of the Heart has a writer so deftly played the heartstrings that swing between Africa and African Americans. Heather Neff has written a modern romance with global scope. Bravo.”—Veronica Chambers, author of When Did You Stop Loving MeM
“Heather Neff’s Accident of Birth is a convincing romance that explores the still uncharted terrain that lies between black Americans and Liberians, one of the most morally complex relationships of our time. More than a love story, it explores personal identities shaped by different chapters of the black diaspora.”—Neely Tucker, author of Love in the Driest Season
“I’ve been admiring Heather Neff since the publication of her first novel Blackgammon. With Accident of Birth, my admiration has increased.”—Colin Channer, author of Passing Through
“A well told story with social depth.”—Bertice Berry, Ph.D., author of Redemption Song
I’ve been an avid runner for many years, and I do a great deal of my “writing” while I’m out on a run. One summer afternoon I was thinking about possible storylines for a novel and I began to turn over the idea of a woman who goes looking for her first husband twenty years after their divorce. It occurred to me that their story might be more interesting if he came from a different country and they’d been driven apart by their cultural differences. By the time I got home that day I’d already figured out the framework for ACCIDENT OF BIRTH. I couldn’t wait to sit down and work out the details.
I saw ACCIDENT OF BIRTH as an opportunity to discuss the “restless kinship” between Africans and African Americans. In other words, I hoped to explore the similarities and differences between our two societies. I chose to write about Liberia because it has a distant historical connection to the United States, and because English is widely spoken there. I should also add that my mother’s sister and her family lived in Liberia in the 1960’s and I grew up hearing stories about its beauty and the warmth of its people.
Yes, I wanted to spotlight the important role of HBCUs in American life. In ACCIDENT OF BIRTH Reba was the third generation of her family to attend Absolom Jones College, which is indeed the case for many Black families in the United States.
I also felt that it was important for Joseph and Reba to meet and fall in love in a Black community, where they were somewhat protected from the challenges of living in the outer world. This meant that I could focus on the Afrocentric values and customs that form the dramatic tensions in the text.
I think it’s important for Americans to understand that people from other cultures often feel very torn between the material opportunities offered by a life in the United States, and the cultural values they’ve left behind. In Joseph’s case, the chance to live a financially secure life in America mattered less than his desire to return to Liberia and offer his life to the people he loved.
No. It is clear that Reba is only able to help Joseph because as an American, she has the resources to do so. I do think, that Americans should take an interest in helping to eradicate poverty, both in the United States and abroad, in any manner that they choose.
Carl is an important character because over the course of the book he learns a great deal about his marriage, his wife and himself. In many ways Carl represents the most hollow aspects of the “American Dream” — he is born with looks, class and money and must develop an appreciation for the real meaning of commitment and love.
I do think that Carl and Reba have a chance of making it, because both of them have come clean about the past and now have the freedom to create a better future.
I would hope that they would remain friends, and perhaps one day find a new way to share their lives, perhaps through the accomplishments of their beautiful children.
ACCIDENT OF BIRTH will soon appear as a recorded book, and I’m looking forward to participating in the project.