ALMA — As a young writer, Sophfronia Scott idolized the titular protagonist of “Jane Erye,” a novel about the psychological and moral growth of a young woman in Victorian-era England.
Scott, director of the Alma College Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program, has given the literary classic a fresh retelling with her latest work, “Wild, Beautiful, and Free,” available March 1 through Lake Union Publishing.
“I’ve wanted to write this book for a long time,” Scott said. “I wanted to tell a story about a character who has no place in society. The main character is a mixed-race girl living in 19th-century America, a time when there are very intentional lines between Black and white. How do you move through the world when everything is against you?”
“Wild” follows Jeannette Bèbinn, as she fights for her freedom and inheritance, escaping from slavery and moving throughout the United States before settling in the Midwest as a teacher. There, she falls in love with a white proprietor, Christian Robichaud Colchester, but struggles to fit into his world. Bèbinn eventually leaves and joins the Civil War as a Union nurse, all the while working her way toward home to Louisiana to reclaim her birthright.
Scott said she read “Jane Eyre” at 13 and it had a “huge” influence on her life and writing. One of the goals of her career, Scott said, has been to create a literary hero who is a woman of color.
“As I was writing it, I thought, ‘This could really do something for people,’” Scott said. “The feedback that I’m getting is amazing and humbling. It comes from all kinds of people. One woman in particular said the book changed her life. That’s exciting — the opportunity to give people a new lens to see themselves through.”
“Wild” is Scott’s seventh book, following 2021’s “The Seeker and the Monk,” (Broadleaf Books) a collection of essays dialoguing with the journals of Thomas Merton. Moving between genres is one of the skills that students in the Alma College MFA are encouraged to learn, Scott said, and it’s a lesson that she aimed to put into practice with “Wild.”
“To me, these books would not have been written if not for the MFA program that I was a part of myself,” Scott said. “I went into my MFA program thinking I would only study fiction, and here I am now moving from faith-based writing to historical fiction. What we try to do is expand our students’ horizons into writing other genres.”
“Wild” has received plaudits from several authors and critics and was chosen as an Amazon First Read for the month of February, a designation made for notable titles. It has already reached No. 1 on Amazon’s list of Best Historical Fiction titles.
Scott will be presenting at the 10th Historical Novel Society North America Conference in San Antonio, Texas, June 8-10, 2023. For more information, visit hns-conference.com.
For more information on “Wild, Beautiful, and Free,” visit sophfronia.com.