Thursday, April 9, 2020

Books: "The Committee" By Sterling Watson

The Committee
By Sterling Watson
Akashic Books; hardcover, $32.95; paperback, $16.95; E-book, $16.99

Sterling Watson is the author of eight novels, including Deadly Sweet, Sweet Dream Baby, Fighting in the Shade, and Suitcase City. He was director of the creative writing program at Eckerd College for twenty years and now teaches in the Solstice MFA Program at Pine Manor College in Boston.

The Committee is set in late 1950s in Gainesville, Florida, which seems to be a sleepy university town. Its residents live, by outward appearances, ordinary lives, but this town is far from ordinary. The most private acts of professors, students, townspeople rich and poor, and politicians are under the close scrutiny of a shadowy group of men, known as The Committee, who use the powers of government and the police to investigate, threaten, and control this increasingly fearful community.

Friends are pitted against friends by The Committee, and careers and lives are threatened in a struggle for the soul of a town, a university, and an ideal. Based on actual historical events and set against the backdrop of political, cultural, and class turmoil, this is a story of love, which is both ilicit and hidden; war, friendship, betrayal, compromise, and finally the necessity to stand firm against the encroachments upon freedom by men who believe they are doing God's and the government's righteous work.

Author's Statement From Sterling Watson:
Why did I write The Committee?
Because I had to. 
I'm sure I'm not the first novelist to make such a statement. As many writers have said, something gets inside you, and it has to come out. I could develop that idea a bit more to say that if it fails to come out, it festers. If you are not giving light and air to this thing inside you, then you are giving vital attention to something else, perhaps something less important to you and the world.
This novel is about the Johns Committee, formally known as the Florida Legislative Investigative Committee, a group of politicians, lawyers, and policemen who were empowered by the State of Florida to identify, harass, and if possible eliminate homosexuals, Communists, and those sympathetic to the NAACP from the universities and public schools. 
It is ironic - even difficult to believe now - that this happened in my home state several years after Senator Joe McCarthy's infamous Army Hearings were shut down in disgrace. How could Florida, "America's vacationland," have been so cruelly backward? It could have been and it was.
What got inside me and had to come out was the anguish and pain I heard in the stories told by University of Florida colleagues who had suffered under the terrorism of the Committee. In the late 1960s these wounds were still fresh. I wrote this book to bring light and air to the courage that some people showed in fighting against state-sanctioned cruelty.

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