John Brown Lives in ‘The Good Lord Bird’

While it ends with the famous confrontation at Harper’s Ferry, W. Va., it starts years before that.

“In the old days, if I was doing your book,I’d just have the Harper’s Ferry raid,” Hawke says to McBride. “You’d lose all of the nuance and sophistication of the story.”

While it’s the story of John Brown, it’s told from the point of view of a 14 year old central character who pretends to be a girl in part to escape slavery. 

The actor Joshua Caleb Johnson says he was trying to play the character known as Onion as a person finding himself, “really trying to find the identity of the character and not just try to play a slave. I had to really put myself there physically, mentally, and emotionally.”

“The genius of the novel for me is … the way it deals with gender and race in the way we all are blind and have blind spots to what we see,” says Hawke.  “And I just feel like it actually lays right in there.”  

“It’s about becoming,” Hawke says of the story. “He’s becoming a man.  He’s becoming himself.  America is becoming… We are all in a process of growth.”  

But McBride says humor always plays a big role. “if you can make an audience laugh, if you can make a reader laugh, they’ll stick with the story.  It doesn’t matter what it is.  So that’s really why I think that a mainstream audience will stick with us.”

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