SWEETGRASS: Then and Now

Almost six years after its nationwide debut, my Lowcountry novel SWEETGRASS is gearing up for a springtime comeback. This May will be the first time it appears at bookstores in trade paperback (It’s one of four paperback releases this year).

In preparation for this literary redux, the publisher has given the book cover a makeover (I think the pop of green and yellow color is eye-catching).

As for the story of Mama June Blakely-- her family’s crisis and unlocked secrets—I left the story untouched.

I was inspired to write this story by watching a woman’s strong hands weave together the disparate grasses into a work of art. How like a mother and her family, I thought. And in a flash I knew what my story would be about.

During Mama June’s tumultuous personal journey, the reader also learns about the intricate southern art of weaving sweetgrass baskets. The story raised many harsh realities about the current issues threatening this centuries-old craft.

I’m delighted to report that since its first publication in 2005, some progress has been made to help preserve the ancient African art of Sweetgrass basket weaving.

  • Sweetgrass basketry was named South Carolina’s state handcraft in 2006.
  • In 2006, the Gullah/Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor was designated by Congress, thus helping protect one of Southern America’s unique cultures shaped by enslaved West Africans.
  • In 2009, the Sweetgrass Cultural Arts Pavilion opened at the new Mount Pleasant Memorial Waterfront Park in South Carolina, in an effort to help keep the basketmaking tradition alive.
  • Local efforts have been made to encourage residents to plant sweetgrass for basketmakers.

However, commercial and residential development in coastal islands and marshes continue to make the indigenous sweetgrass difficult to find. It’s an ongoing issue, one that was prevalent when I was writing SWEETGRASS years ago and continues today. Southern coastal communities must continue to work to find ways to protect our precious coastal resources.

My hope is that anyone who reads or re-reads SWEETGRASS when it’s released in May will enjoy this family saga of a plantation family and come to appreciate the sweetgrass basketmaking culture.

If you don’t have a sweetgrass basket in your home, go out to the new Cultural Arts Pavilion in Mt. P, or to the Market in Charleston, or stop at one of the many basket stands along Hwy 17. Each sewer is a unique artist. By learning about the baskets, you’ll better understand the cost and appreciate that the baskets are a historic and impressive art form of the Lowcountry. I adore them and have them all over my house. 

Here's a photo of the baskets in my office. 













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All the best,
Mary Alice