January 18, 2014 10:55:41 PM
Tuesday is a notable day for Deborah Johnson, and for the community she calls home. The Columbus author's second novel, "The Secret of Magic," will be released by publisher Amy Einhorn Books/G.P. Putnam's Sons. The launch will be celebrated with a book signing and reception at the Columbus Arts Council's Rosenzweig Arts Center at 501 Main St. in downtown Columbus, from 4 to 6 p.m.
Johnson's first novel, "The Air Between Us" (HarperCollins, 2008), won the Mississippi Library Award for Fiction. Like it, "The Secret of Magic" weaves themes of race, relationships and mystery into a story set in the Magnolia State.
After an African-American World War II soldier is murdered in 1946 as he returns home to Mississippi, legendary lawyer Thurgood Marshall receives a letter signed by the famously reclusive author M.P. Calhoun asking him to investigate. Marshall sends Regina Robichard, a young, idealistic black lawyer in New York City, to make inquiries. Once in Mississippi, Robichard finds "nothing is as it seems" as she searches for answers.
Johnson wrote "The Secret of Magic" with four people foremost in her mind: her beloved grandfather and World War II veteran, Joe Howard Thurman; her grandfather's hero, Thurgood Marshall; Isaac Woodard, a returning black World War II soldier who was blinded by white police officers in South Carolina in 1946; and Constance Baker Motley, the inspiration for Regina. Motley was the first female lawyer hired by Marshall at the Legal Defense Fund.
As the storyline and the important character of Mary Pickett Calhoun developed, the author was inspired, too, by some of the women she came to know after moving to Columbus in 2002.
"I really fashioned Calhoun after women I met like Chebie Bateman, Anne Hardy and Lilla Rosamond," explained Johnson. "They had witnessed many, many changes in their lives; it was a whole different way from what their lives had started out to be. I would look at them and think how graciously they were able to make these great changes. They were able to navigate those changes and move forward. I admired that in them."
The writer was also influenced by her community.
"I like the fact that in Columbus people sort of know each other, and I wanted that feel ... the feel of this place and the changes people lived through, on both sides. That's something the South doesn't get enough credit for," said Johnson.
Johnson's publisher, Amy Einhorn, also published "The Help," the New York Times No. 1 bestseller by Kathryn Stockett, who was born in Jackson.
"Kathryn Stockett showed us a slice of Mississippi's complex past in her novel 'The Help,'" Einhorn wrote in a publisher's letter. "In 'The Secret of Magic,' Deborah Johnson shows us a bit more. I consider it a privilege, and somewhat of a coup, to be the publisher of both books."
Tuesday's book signing and reception are open to the public. For more information, contact the arts center, 662-328-2787.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.