Clark University Professor Ousmane-Power Greene recently released his debut novel, ‘The Confessions of Matthew Strong.’
The thriller follows the fictional story of Professor Allegra Douglass as she recounts the happenings between herself and a white supremacist. ‘Confessions’ explores themes of race, redemption, societal imbalances and highlights some history around slavery and racial tension in the South.
Zydalis Bauer spoke with Power-Greene to learn more about his inspiration to write this novel, and how it will leave readers reflecting on society.
Read the full transcript:
Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: Clark University professor Ousmane Power-Greene has released his debut novel entitled, “The Confessions of Matthew Strong.” The novel explores themes such as race, redemption, societal imbalances, and highlights some history around slavery and racial tension in the South.
I spoke with Power-Greene to learn more about his inspiration to write this novel and how it will leave readers reflecting on society.
Dr. Ousmae Power-Greene, Author: You know, about 15 years ago, I was inspired to really think about some of our contemporary intellectuals and activists and how the movement — the alt-right at the time, we talk about white power now — the ways in which that’s challenged Black activist intellectuals, particularly around the election of Barack Obama, right?
So, on one hand, we have a Black president. On the other hand, those that once were more sort of explicit in the ways in which they try to connect with people who sort of believe in racism and white supremacy, begin putting on suits, begin shifting how they — they frame their sense of white supremacy in ways that became palpable.
All of these were in my mind when I began thinking about Allie Douglass and sort of and Matthew Strong and how these two figures would end up coming into conflict, which is the center of the novel.
Zydalis Bauer: The story is fictional, but I have to admit, honestly, there’s been times that I’m like, “Is it fictional or is this fact?” Because a lot of the things that are happening in the book reflect real events that have happened.
How is fiction a useful tool to illuminate history?
Dr. Ousmae Power-Greene: The historian ultimately must use their imagination when reconstructing the past. We have documents. We know where someone was.
For example, when I was writing “Confessions of Matthew Strong,” I was looking at the history of the Confederacy and looking at the of the sons of Southern slaveholders after the Civil War and how many of them became involved in the sort of vigilante racist violence. And so, you have the confessionals, you have the transcripts, but ultimately the story must bring all this together and create a narrative and create a story.
And so, both history and also writing fiction require one to create a story and bring events together so they have coherence.
Zydalis Bauer: I noticed that there’s this juxtaposition in the book with it being in the academic Northeast and the microaggressions that exist in that environment. And then you have the South, particularly Alabama, that has the deep roots in white supremacy.
Is that something that you can relate to? Was an intentional to create these two settings?
Dr. Ousmae Power-Greene: So, when I begin to imagine this character, Allie Douglass, and I knew that I wanted her to be a philosopher. I knew I wanted her to to be a person that makes her living, this Black woman, with ideas. And as people who are watching this can imagine, if you look around universities and higher education, there are not that many Black women philosophers.
I imagine the sort of experience and thought about what — I’m a professor, obviously, and so I’m aware on some level of the sorts of issues and challenges we face in universities. And so, I sort of used that and brought that together and — and imagine the sorts of — of — of microaggressions maybe you could say, or just the arrogance and the, you know, the stereotypes, the ways that some people, some people, particularly maybe who are white, really have never interacted, particularly in the Northeast, where you have less sort of professional Black intellectuals, with a woman like Allie Douglass.
So, that — that inspired the sort of ideas, the details. How it’s framed for me is something that’s very real. And all African American academics, academics who are people of color, broadly, endure a catalog of slights on the regular. And so, those are some of the ones I decided to pull out.
Zydalis Bauer: The other thing that stood out to me was that the — the protagonist, Allie Douglass, you as an author and as a man, decided to write from a woman’s perspective.
What was the purpose of you wanting to write from this viewpoint?
Dr. Ousmae Power-Greene: My publisher asked me this question! She had thought it was something really very deep in terms of my own, I don’t know, imagination. But really, I modeled the character of Angela Davis, actually.
And so, it was for me, like many people, Angela Davis is a hero of mine, a person who I respect tremendously. And — and I teach her work. And so, I wanted her to be the heroine. I imagined — she’s the first person that came to mind.
And then just drawing off of the great literary tradition, the fantastic Black women writers who I love. The contemporary ones, like I was down to earth, for example, and just trying to find that voice the best I can. And knowing the entire time that whether I succeeded would be, of course, the great challenge that all my readers, particularly my women readers, will know.
And I had a team obviously, of people to who — who read it and saved me some embarrassing mistakes, things like that, from day one so.
Zydalis Bauer: I think that’s why it stood out to me, because as I was reading it, for some reason I was like, “Wait a minute, this is Ousmane writing this!” And I felt like I was — it was a woman, you know? So, I think you did a really good job writing from that perspective.
But I also want to talk about something else because you shared a piece with me that you wrote that gave a little bit of context to this story. And in it, you talk about your grandfather, who was nearly lynched and some of the confusion that you felt behind finding out about that story so late in life. Yet, you were traveling to the South with your daughter and hesitant to tell her about your uneasiness of being in that location and you didn’t want to pass that fear down to her.
So, how do we have these types of important and heavy conversations without inciting fear or passing down trauma? Is it possible? Is it inevitable? How do you go about it?
Dr. Ousmae Power-Greene: You know, this has been the central dilemma, particularly for people like me, who are born after the civil rights movement. The question is, how does one deal with the indignities, the violence, the stories from our family? And when — when we pass them on, how clear should we be?
Of course, this is central to the novel, right? Allie Douglass, my main character, is confronting her own mother’s death and the stories around what happened. And there’s a lot of uncertainty, a lot of haunting — intergenerational haunting — that stays with us.
And I feel the same way. I mean, I was an adult when my grandfather told me this sort of horrific story about my great-grandfather that he never told me. This is a part of our experiences as Black people in this country. It’s things that they’re going to find out and know. And so, we we must have the tough conversations.
And I think as parents and as adults, we have an opportunity to create the framework for the conversations, right? It’s our opportunity because, you know, as kids, as young people come of age, we know they’re going to be exposed to these things.
Zydalis Bauer: So, one of the reviews for your book states that “it will leave you looking at the world in a completely different way.”
So, in what ways do you hope this book allows people to reflect on society? What do you hope the takeaway from this book is?
Dr. Ousmae Power-Greene: When I first wrote and created this character, Matthew Strong, and the story came to me, I was thinking a lot about the power of storytelling, to educate, to inspire, to show the highs and lows of life. And any story that has a villain, you know, it’s always about will the — those who you support or believe in defeat the villain?
Unfortunately, the last couple of years we have seen a real serious resurgence in white supremacy. Digital side, recruiting kids and sort of into these these white supremacist groups. We have seen people, you know, an insurrection at the Capitol. We’ve really seen much more aggressive efforts to resurrect some of these organizations that we haven’t seen around in a long time.
I tell my students, actually, there was a time in the eighties when people who were members of the Ku Klux Klan would come to campus and they would speak on campus. We really haven’t seen very much of that. Instead, it’s gone sort of behind computers.
And so, at minimum, you know, all fiction — let me just say all fiction should entertain on some level — it should be engaging, even if the stories are really hard, right? They should be ones that we connect with, ultimately. And so that’s what I mean by entertain, connect. But if those walk away, being able to have conversations about and understand about sort of the modern white power movement, that would be something that I would think would be positive.
Because we must talk about these things. We have to address them with our — with our children. We need to, you know, regardless of being Black or white, whoever we are, how we identify, this is a real part of our world.
And if people read the novel and at the end, they’re left with questions, they want to sort of learn more. Is this realistic? Could this Matthew Strong person actually do the sorts of things it does? That will be a positive thing to me. I’m a teacher at the end of the day, and but hopefully the work is a work of fiction and is going to take people on a great story, you know, they’ll enjoy it in its own right.