Jessica Marie Tuccelli grew up in New York City, as far culturally from the mountains of northeast Georgia as you might imagine. But for her first novel, “Glow,” Tuccelli has tackled Southern culture that spans 100 years.
It’s a task that might seem daunting and even risky for someone uninitiated in the intricate landmines that make up the Southern ethos, but the author seems to have navigated this territory well and has been well received by the denizens of a land that have embraced its literature with both zeal and caution, even if it had been written by one of its own.
And although Tuccelli is not a child of the South, she can be forgiven for her venturing into this sometimes complicated territory because it would appear that she has channeled the spirits of native scribes such as Flannery O’Connor and William Faulkner, and more contemporary writers such as Alice Walker. Tuccelli seems to understand her subject as though Southerness runs through her veins.
Tuccelli is an anthropologist studying human culture through her art. She is a successful filmmaker and now author. She will be at Page After Page Book Store Friday, 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., to discuss “Glow.”
She says her career path has led to filmmaking and while she has written her first novel, she does not consider herself a novelist. Rather, Tuccelli is an artist and the written word is one of the mediums aiding her in the important exploration of the human condition.
Tuccelli says the works of American cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead inspired her to study the discipline at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston — she was the only MIT student majoring in the subject at the time. She was trying to find a place for her curiosity and interests. Anthropology suited that and eventually she began working as a filmmaker, most notably on the documentary “Hoop Dreams.”
Tuccelli says she has written a number of one-woman shows, and she was working on just such a script when she created the character of Ella. Ella would become the main character of a story that includes five distinct voices and spans 100 years of history. That story is “Glow.”
According to the book’s description, “Glow” begins in October 1941.
“Eleven-year-old Ella McGee sits on a bus bound for her Southern hometown. Behind in Washington D.C. lie the broke pieces of her parents’ love story — a black father drafted, an activist mother of Scotch-Irish and Cherokee descent confronting racist thugs. But Ella’s journey is just beginning when she reaches Hopewell County and her disappearance into the Georgia mountains will unfurl a rich tapestry of family secrets spanning a century.”
From their the story marches backward in time, told by five voices, stopping in time at 1836.
It’s a lot to take in, perhaps, but Tuccelli said she is presenting a well thought out, well researched novel that she spent a great deal of time poring over in an effort to convincingly recreate a culture that while it is not in her sphere of personal history, it is apparently emblazoned into her psyche.
“The cultures and traditions of the South were somewhat a mystery to me,” explained Tuccelli in a recent phone interview. “Why Georgia and why not South Carolina? Why not Tennessee? The reason is straightforward. I had written the first chapter. What I didn’t have was a specific place. I began to wonder where this place would be. I looked on my shelf and I realized that I was attracted to Southern writers.”
It became apparent, Tuccelli explained, that she needed a place that was lush and fertile and exotic. She needed a somewhat magical place and it seemed that the Georgia mountains fit that bill.
“It was a perfect place for my story,” said Tuccelli.
She would spend a great deal of time there. She would, she said, “become addicted” to the place.
“It was so extraordinary. I met extraordinary people.”
Tuccelli, true to her roots in anthropology, said she was “transparent about her work.” She told the people that she encountered what she was doing and why she was doing it. She was very simply working on a novel and would they speak to her.
Yes, she said, they were willing to speak to her. They spoke to her and their stories unfolded, revealing to her the character of the place on which she writes.
She also delved into obituaries. “You learn a lot from obituaries.” And she read dictionaries.
Because her story spans a period from 1941 back to 1836, the language, she explained, would have changed. With that in mind she consulted dictionaries from the various periods in an effort to pin down the dialogue and the language.
She also read cookbooks and legislation from the various periods in an effort to better understand the culture and the time in which she was relating its ways.
The result is a story that Publisher’s Weekly says its, “… elaborately woven plot serves the story well, peppering the novel with moments of lingering beauty and shocking violence.”
For more information about the book, the author and the book signing, contact Page After Page at 252-335-7243.