—Arshia Simkin, The Underline
The blurb for local author Anise Vance’s debut novel, Hush Harbor, asks a provocative question: “What would you sacrifice in the name of justice?”
The novel, which is currently available for pre-order, and which will debut on September 5, is about the aftermath of the shooting of an unarmed Black teenager. It has been longlisted for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize and named a “Most Anticipated” book in The Rumpus.
The book takes place “in a fictional city called Bliss, New Jersey [where] an armed resistance group emerges in reaction to the shooting and then to the acquittal of the police officers responsible for the shooting,” Vance said. The book follows four central characters—Malik, who is traveling into Hush Harbor; Quinn, a white woman who is a senior advisor to the mayor and torn in her sympathies; and siblings and leaders of Hush Harbor, Jeremiah and Nova Prince, who have differing views on how to enact a revolution.
Vance, who is Black and Iranian, first got the idea for the novel while living in Belfast, Ireland, where he was working on a master’s degree which involved studying conflict and identity. The degree required interviewing paramilitary figures who had been involved in The Troubles and Vance recalled one striking, clandestine meeting, which took place “in a small little townhouse—you had to walk this very narrow street to get there—knock on the door, the door was opened, another gentlemen led me up to this back room.” There, Vance met with a “short, stocky” man with graying hair who started telling Vance his life story. As the man was speaking, Vance realized he knew who the man was—a controversial figure from The Troubles; to his surprise, Vance was charmed by the man, who spoke so openly and compelling: “it seemed as if he was confiding in you and he told his story in such a way that it illuminated the spirals of violence [around him],” Vance said. This 2011 meeting became lodged in Vance’s mind and he wondered whether there was a parallel to the relationship between the police and Black Americans and what a resistance movement in the United States would look like. Three years later, in 2014, with continued police violence and the public outrage at the killings of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and Tamira Rice, Vance returned once again, to the idea: “I think we were all traumatized by those and part of my response was to start writing the story,” Vance said.
It would take another three years before Vance began to work on the novel in earnest: after the initial idea in 2014, he got serious about writing it in 2017, after his son was born. Then, Vance began waking up early in the morning—“five or five-thirty”—to work on the novel daily. “That was both immensely joyful…and it was also really painful in a lot of ways because you’re waking up to this world where the thing that people are thinking about and grappling with is the death of a young Black kid…especially because my kids are young Black kids,” Vance said.
“This is a book that is fundamentally about love and sacrifice,” Vance said. “All of the grief and all of the pain and all of the trauma that all of these characters experience is because they love something dearly—and they love someone dearly. And they have seen the people that they love mistreated over and over and over again and have now decided that their response to it requires a degree of sacrifice that hasn’t been seen before…”
According to Vance, the book doesn’t offer any easy answers to that opening question about willingness to sacrifice; rather each of the central characters comes to a different place and you see some of the consequences of their choices.
Vance acknowledges that Hush Harbor addresses difficult topics and he recalled an incident at a reading he gave at a conference in Chicago: after the reading, a young Black woman came up to him. “She was pretty emotional about the talk,” Vance said. She told him that “she really, really wanted to read the book but she just wasn’t ready for it yet.” Vance hopes that when readers like this woman are ready, “they find just some little sliver of catharsis in it.”