Author Brit Bennett explores colorism in ‘The Vanishing Half’

A woman poses wearing a dark sweater; book cover of “The Vanishing Half”
Brit Bennett is the author of The New York Times best-selling novel, “The Mothers.” Her latest novel is “The Vanishing Half.”
Emma Trim | Courtesy of Penguin Random House

In Brit Bennett’s latest novel, “The Vanishing Half,” twin sisters Desiree and Stella start out life together in the fictional Black community of Mallard, Louisiana. But their paths ultimately diverge, and one sister disappears to a life in which she’ll secretly pass for white.

The tale delves into the concept of colorism, or discrimination within communities of color against darker skin, and it starts in the town the twins are born in. 

In the book, the town of Mallard was founded by the freed son of a white master and an enslaved woman in the mid-1800s. It’s created as a space for Black people who strive to marry and have children who are lighter skinned, “Each generation lighter than the one before,” even though the town’s founder knows that lighter skin color will be a “lonely gift.” 

“I was interested in writing about colorism as something that was not going to feel abstract or was not going to feel ... like I was kind of thinking about this only intellectually,” Bennett said. “I wanted to think about it as an embodied feeling and think about what the characters are experiencing within this society that is structured around such an insidious ideology.”

MPR News host Kerri Miller had a thoughtful conversation with Bennett about her novel and about writing during a pandemic.

Guest:

  • Brit Bennett is the author of “The Mothers.” Her latest novel is “The Vanishing Half.”

    To listen to the full conversation you can use the audio player above.

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