“The Sand Banks, 1861”
by David Wright Faladé
from the August 31, 2020 issue of The New Yorker
David Wright Faladé is a completely new name to me. From my searches, it looks like he has published two books, both under the name David Wright. The first is a book of history: Fire on the Beach: Recovering the Lost Story of Richard Etheridge and the Pea Island Lifesavers, from 2001. Then in 2016 he published a young adult novel called Away Running. On his website, you can find links to a few pieces of short fiction he has published.
In “The Sand Banks, 1861” he continues to look at the life of Richard Etheridge; however, because he is going back to a time before the historical record has a lot of information about Etheridge, when he is only thirteen, Faladé has written a novel, Nigh On a Bother, which is to be published in January 2022. This is all from the helpful interview with Cressida Leyshon. The interview is particularly helpful if, like me, you had not heard of Richard Etheridge, who was born enslaved in 1842 on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, one of the first sites the North took over at the outset of the Civil War. Eventually enlisting in the Union Army. This Wikipedia article is a nice primer.
This sounds like a must-read! Here is how “The Sand Banks, 1861” begins:
We were just boys, ten-, eleven-, and twelve-year-olds, five colored and one white. But for our smallclothes, each of us was most-all naked. We stood on the rickety reach of the pier, its planks care-laid but well used, us colored boy’s black glistening in the noontime bright, the white one not yet leathered like the sunbeat beefs that free-ranged the island. Our britches and coveralls and burlap shirts lay pell-mell near the spot on the short where Ebo Joe Meekins knelt, inspecting the line of the skiff he was refitting. The old Negor was either fifty or a thousand, the one age as imponderable to us as the other, and he paid us no more mind than we did him. On the water, cleat-hitched to the pier, rocked the dugout full of oysters that we were supposed to be ferrying over to Ashbee’s Harbor. Up and down it rolled with each leap or dive, as we plunged into the water one at a time or in twos and sometimes all six at once.
I like the way this takes some time to set the stage, and I’m very excited to sit down with the story and finish it today.
Please feel welcome to share any of your thoughts below!