‘The Thread Collectors’
By Deb Silverthorn
The authors of “The Thread Collectors,” Shaunna J. Edwards and Alyson Richman, will be featured in conversation with former Dallas Mayor Laura Miller at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 17, at Congregation Shearith Israel (CSI). The event is part of the Dallas JCC’s Margot Pulitzer Rosenberg BookFest in partnership with CSI’s Sisterhood. The authors will weave a fascinating dialogue.
“This will for sure be one of the most unique events we’ve ever hosted. I am so thrilled to have these amazing women joining us in person. The event is open to the public, and we hope our audience will be as diverse as the stories of all of our histories,” said Rachelle Weiss Crane, the J’s director of Israel engagement and Jewish living and BookFest producer.
“The Thread Collectors,” published in August, is the eighth book by Richman and the first by Edwards.
The book, inspired by the authors’ families, begins in 1863, in a small Creole cottage in New Orleans, as Stella, a Black woman, embroiders intricate maps on repurposed cloth to help enslaved men flee and join the Union Army. Bound to a man who would kill her if he knew of her clandestine activities, she hides not only her efforts but her love for a Black musician and soldier.
In New York City, Lily, a Jewish woman, stitches a quilt for her husband, who is stationed in Louisiana with the Union Army. Between abolitionist meetings, Lily rolls bandages and crafts quilts with her sewing circle for other soldiers, too, hoping for their safe return home. When months go by without word from her husband, Lily resolves to make the perilous journey South to search for him.
The two women, risking everything for love and freedom during the brutal Civil War, find their paths converging in New Orleans.
Throughout the book, the characters’ names come from those of the authors’ ancestors. Although it is fiction, many of the stories told come from the history passed down through their homes, the joys and the tensions, the trials and celebrations of their past.
“So much historical fiction is written by men. I am very proud to have penned this with my friend, another strong, and so very smart, woman. You never know how a conversation can begin and how the unexpected will appear,” said Edwards. In her first career as a corporate attorney, she was named the first African American woman promoted to partner at her international firm.
The daughter of Dr. Stella and the late Harry Wade Jones, Edwards is married to Denver Edwards. Her change of career from attorney to writer, while unexpected, came naturally after being raised with her mother’s example to follow career dreams.
Born on a cotton farm, Stella Jones was one of seven siblings; all attended college, ultimately earning graduate degrees. A career as a pharmacist was not enough for her, and though she was married with two children, she decided to go to medical school. Her husband and children lived with family in Houston while she was in Lubbock at Texas Tech University for medical school and then residency. After an illustrious medical career, and two more children, Dr. Jones and her husband opened the Stella Jones Gallery in New Orleans.
Edwards is a graduate of Harvard and New York University School of Law. She said, “My parents taught me to live dreams by example. While I never imagined myself an author, this moment is absolutely a dream come true. I believe we can have many purposes and lives. I spent years as an attorney breaking barriers, fighting for diversity and inclusion. Alyson came to me when I was putting one foot in front of the other to get through difficult days. It was the right time for something new.”
The writers had met more than a decade earlier but came together professionally with Richman’s idea to write about a most racially divisive time. The two sat in a park on Juneteenth in 2020, masked at the height of the pandemic, dreaming up characters and how they could bring each of their legacies to the forefront.
“I learned from the artist’s lens of my mother and the intellectual curiosity of my father. I’ve made a career where my words are my brushstrokes. My intention is to write with color and texture, to draw from the wells of my parents. I love to write about what is different from myself. If I learn, I can share,” said Richman. She is the best-selling author of “The Mask Carver’s Son”; “The Rhythm of Memory”; “The Last Van Gogh”; “The Lost Wife,” now in development as a motion picture; “The Garden of Letters”; “The Velvet Hours”; and “The Secret of Clouds.”
Born and raised on Long Island, New York, to Ellen and Paul Richman, the author graduated from Wellesley College with a degree in art history and Japanese studies. She found stories of artists fascinating and the way she shared them prompted professors to encourage her to write.
Richman, married to Stephen Gordon and the mother of two, brought to “The Thread Collectors” the experiences of her great-great-great-uncles who came to the States from Germany. Two of three brothers fought in the Civil War, one serving the Confederacy, the other remaining in the North in the Union troops.
“It was the fraternal divide that cleaved my family forever. Their story has always been in the back of my mind. I saw a documentary about the Civil War and a flash of what became our back story came to mind. I talked to Shaunna and, while we knew there would be tough conversations and we would have to be brave together, we wanted to grow and bridge our communities, not break them,” said Richman.
Together, during a season when the world was fragile and felt broken, the women created a tome of honor and respect.
“The timing of this event, and the importance of coming together to share our lives, couldn’t be more poignant. It is an honor to share the stage with these two women. As a writer, I am intrigued by how Alyson and Shaunna came together to create ‘The Thread Collectors,’ really an epiphany of who we are that has us go way beyond the stereotypes that people harbor,” said Laura Miller, Dallas’ mayor from 2002 to 2007 and city council member from 1998 to 2001.
The Dock Bookshop in Fort Worth, one of the largest African American–owned full-service bookstores in Texas and the Southwest, is the official bookseller for this event.
“The premise of two women, such strong women, working together to bring this book of history of the time is wonderful. We’re very happy to support ‘The Thread Collectors,’ the authors and, for the first time ever the Dallas JCC. This is a unique opportunity and we’re very happy to participate,” said Donna Kraddick. She has the book in stock and available to order online, and will be selling copies at the event.
Now that the BookFest is back in person, under one roof, BookFest Chair Marcy Helfand looks forward to the event.
“These authors are so good, the story unreal — but very real — and together we have so many reasons for good conversation: our heritages, our communities,” said Helfand. “Our authors’ friendship deepened as they wrote, and I believe our communities can do the same. We are thrilled at this opportunity.”
To register for the event and order “The Thread Collectors” book, visit jccdallas.org/spe