I’m excited to help spread the word about Because We Are, a new murder-mystery novel based in Cité Soleil, an infamous Haitian slum in Port-au-Prince, near the epicenter of the earthquake in January 2010.
Ted Oswald, the book’s author, is a Philadelphia-based lawyer who lived in Haiti while working with a human rights organization. During that time the idea for the novel was born. It’s a really compelling story, which is reason enough to read it, but Ted hopes it will have real-world impact as well.
This video has more of the story:
Here’s my brief interview with Ted about the project.
TH: Everyone’s familiar with nonprofit organizations, but few have ever heard of a nonprofit novel. So, what is it?
TO: In my conception, a “nonprofit novel” is fiction with a social conscience that inspires the world to greater justice and peace. Because We Are presents a picture of struggle and hardship known in a particular place and time—in this case, a dangerous slum outside Port-au-Prince a few years ago—and desires to translate readers’ new or existing interest in Haiti from the page into the real world. That can be achieved through a number of means, whether it’s seeing funds donated from book purchases, fresh reflection and consideration of what our role is in correcting injustice, or even more direct action on behalf of Haitians.
TH: On Indiegogo, you’ve already reached your $1,900 goal for editing, production, publicity, and distribution. Everything else you raise in the next nine days—as well as future profits from sales of the book—will go to support the work of a handful of small organizations in Haiti. Why did you choose to take this approach, and how did you choose which organizations to support?
TO: My wife and I lived in Haiti for several months and interned–her as an international development student, and me as a law student. We witnessed many organizations at work, both large and small. You see a lot of relief and development done in a disappointing way in Haiti. Whether paternalistic, wasteful, dependency-inducing or unresponsive to community needs, it makes you pay attention when you see examples of organizations doing a goodjob. The organizations selected for this campaign have long-standing commitments to partnering with Haitians; they have great reputations and proven track records in their different areas of work, whether those fields are human rights advocacy and promotion, education, microfinance, conflict resolution, or improving the environment.
Much of the book was inspired by conversations and experiences while on the ground in Haiti, and it somehow felt strange to profit financially from it. This model seemed a way to gather the support of others to give back to a country and people that deeply changed my life. Ultimately, I chose this model because it just felt right.
TH: Because We Are is scheduled for release in January 2013. When people read it, what kinds of responses would mean the most to you? Is the book simply a way to support the work of great organizations, or do you hope Because We Are becomes something more than that?
TO: Beyond the desire to draw attention to great organizations and aid their work, the book is an ambitious and emotional story in its own right. I’ll be pleased if even a few readers enjoy it and recommend it to others. But I do dream of something more.
The novels that have stuck with me over the years are ones that have something profound to say to society—books likeTo Kill a Mockingbird, Cry, the Beloved Country and Native Son. These are works of fiction that developed me as a person, and in turn impacted the world through my actions.
While not a polemic, Because We Are is also not a simple murder mystery. It has pointed criticism of the injustices that have led Haiti to become one of the most inequitable countries in the world, while telling a compelling story about two remarkable children struggling to see a grievous wrong righted. If Because We Are “sticks” with readers, if it can stir some reflection, growth and action, well, that would have to be the fulfillment of my greatest hope.
The Indiegogo campaign for Because We Are just has nine days left. Please visit the campaign page and check out the perks for various levels of support. If this seems like the kind of thing you can get behind, please consider pitching in to support the project.
[Image credit: becauseweare.com]