When fiction mirrors reality: Hailey author pens novel about racism, symbols and leadership | Southern Idaho Local News

HAILEY — Paul Firstenberg didn’t expect chapters of his book to become front page news.

But they did as white supremacists clashed with counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Va., last week

Firstenberg, 83, published his first novel, “Murder in the Land of Cotton,” a few days following the violence. He’s been working on the book for the past three years.

It is the story of the murder of the first black candidate for mayor in a southern city. The assassins escape undetected, and as news of the murder spreads, black citizens become enraged and begin rioting.

“At its heart, the novel is an examination of the challenges to the deeply held culture of a southern city in the nineteen sixties and the courage of the citizens who bring about change,” Firstenberg wrote in the book’s online Amazon summary.

There is a chapter in the book where people want to tear down a statue of Confederate soldiers.

“I wrote the chapter long before,” he said. “When I wrote it I had no idea it would become front page news. I never thought we’d have the explosion that we had with Charlottesville.”

In writing the novel, Firstenberg drew on his experiences as chancellor of Tulane University in New Orleans, La. Firstenberg currently lives between Hailey and New York City. Firstenberg said he experienced culture shock when he moved to New Orleans from New York.

When he met people for the first time in New Orleans they were sociable and warm. Often when he attended dinner parties in New York, Firstenberg said, people were only interested in his resume.

“New York is not as warm and open,” he said.

“Murder in the Land of Cotton” is loosely based on New Orleans and is set during the 1990s when he lived and worked there.

“I choose that time for two reasons,” he said. “I wanted to get beyond the civil rights laws and see how that shapes…

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