Matty Rich is best known for his multplei award-winning movie Straight Out of Brooklyn — winning the Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival; the NAACP Image Award; the Independent Spirit Award; the CEBA Award; the Big Apple Award; the Producer’s Guild of America Award; and the Nova Award. Made for $77,000, it can be seen on television, and is one of the most requested films during Black History Month — along with fan favorite The Inkwell, starring award-winning actors Larenz Tate, Jada Pinkett Smith, Joe Morton, Glynn Turman and Vanessa Bell Calloway.
Rich’s new novel BEV, published by Simon & Schuster and co-authored by Andrea Williams, talks about Bloody Sunday through the eyes of Beverly “Bev” Luther, a Caucasian civil rights activist. Ironically, the timely book mirrors what is going on today as it relates to Black lives.
Here, Rich talks about his gripping novel that centers on the real-life story of a little-known social worker in the Civil Rights Movement.
What inspired you to write your first book?
After reading a memoir written by Meredith Kopald, who is the sister of Bev Luther. The memoir was written by Meredith specifically for Bev Luther’s two biracial children so they would have an understanding of who their mother was. Bev, unfortunately, died in her 40s from cancer. I was blown away by the courage of Bev, a Caucasian woman who felt compelled to answer the “call to action” by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by giving of her professional skills as a social worker. She traveled from New York City to the segregated South to help Dr. King and African Americans achieve equality.
Do you have a specific writing style?
As an author, I work closely with my co-author and writer Andrea Williams. Andrea captured the voice of Bev Luther. As a filmmaker, I am a natural storyteller, so, I wanted the book to have a theatrical movie feel that people could actually envision.
What books have most impacted your life (or life as an author)?
Roots by Alex Haley book had a serious impact on me as a young person, writer/director and producer. I had the honor of being interviewed by Alex Haley in the early 1990s when he interviewed African American film directors for BET. That was a huge moment for me. Alex Haley’s storytelling changed America’s view on the African American experience in America.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging about writing or coming up with a concept for your book?
Finding the voice of the story is the most challenging. We were able to define Bev’s voice by how she thought, how she spoke, how she reacted and how she learned from each experience and the choices she made. Once her voice was uncovered, her story began to come to life.
What was the hardest part of completing this project?
Researching the facts! We wanted to be as factual as possible in regards to Bev’s story and the monumental dates of the Civil Rights Movement. We had the great pleasure of working with Meredith Kopald, Bev’s sister, who filled in a lot of the blanks for Andrea and myself. Meredith’s involvement was very crucial in giving us the backstory of her sister and learning of who she was.
What advice would you give other writers?
Take your time. Do your research. The creation of Bev was a two year process that we all labored in. The two years working with our publishers, Karen Hunter Publishing/Simon & Schuster provided for great support in the creative process of the book. They wanted to make sure we all put the best book out for the consumers to read.
Describe the process in getting published?
After reading Meredith Kopald’s memoir about her sister Bev, I contacted best-selling author and publisher Karen Hunter in New York. I pitched the book concept to Karen, then I traveled to New York City for a meeting. In the meeting Karen Hunter immediately understood the book and the importance people knowing Bev’s point of view. It was an angle of history that we felt had not been told or published. That meeting was the selling point.
What were the literary, psychological and/or logistical challenges in bringing your work to life?
We were telling a story about Bev Luther who is deceased. We had to discover her thoughts, reactions, insecurity, vulnerability and courage. Meredith Kopald filled in the blanks for us about her sister. Meredith involvement was crucial in telling Bev’s story.
Everyone’s process for writing is different. Explain yours.
First, it’s finding the voice of the character and the back story. In my writing process, I start out with, Who is the story about? Why should we care? How did the character make a difference?
What are your favorite books and why?
Roots by Alex Haley. The Color Purple by Alice Walker and The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin. All of these writers have a unique way of storytelling and creating memorable characters.
Please provide three “good to know” facts about you. Be creative. Tell us about your first job or the inspiration behind your writing.
My first creative project was writing, directing, producing and acting in my first film, Straight Out of Brooklyn. I was released in theaters when I was 19 years old. This was a story that mirrored my life growing up in Red Hook housing projects in Brooklyn. I wanted to tell a story about an African American family that dealt with issues of poverty, violence’s and the effects it has on the children.
I love being creative, but in my spare time I find enjoyment in spinning. I have even become a spin instructor.
What is the mission you set out to accomplish with your voice in this book?
The voice of Bev Luther, a Caucasian woman who decided that she would not just stand by and witness the injustice of African Americans and people in general, would be heard. She decided to get involved for the fight for justice. I wanted to tell the story of a woman that we all could relate to, a woman who was a worker for justice and she just happens to be White.
A great book has what?
Intriguing characters and a compelling story.
You develop character and ideas by …
With Bev, it took learning about Bev’s characteristics, back story, how she was raised as a youth, what inspired her unpopular decision, and what made her accept the call to action to get involved in the civil rights movement.
Where would you travel if you could to write you next book?
I would like to travel to either West Africa or South Africa. Africa is so beautiful and rich with history.
What is the gift of reading and why does it open up a new world?
Reading inspired me as a young person. The more I read, the more I wanted to see these characters come to life. As a teenager, I would read film books written by some of the greatest story tellers! With today’s technology, reading gives us so much insight on the lives of people in faraway places, different cultures and lifestyles that make for great reading and research.
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