Natalie J. Graham

Lance Cleland

Natalie J. Graham is an award-winning author and performer who has toured nationally with her collection of poems, Begin with a Failed Body. In August 2021, Natalie was appointed Poet Laureate of Orange County. A widely-published scholar with research interests in identity performance, food culture, and music, she is also a professor in the Department of African American Studies at Cal State University, Fullerton.

Project Description: Season of Woe is set in the contemporary, small town of Anthony, Georgia. It centers on protagonist Quinisha Tate in the wake of her mother’s death. The plot is punctuated by her ambivalent carrying out of a series of “grief labors,” or mourning rituals based on local folklore, intended to “set right a woman’s world.” As Quinisha navigates the “labors,” she uncovers a legacy of corruption and exploitation at Franklin Brothers, the most successful Black-owned business in Georgia. Her discovery, which is prompted by visions of her mother, coincides with Franklin Brother #1’s well-funded bid for County Commissioner. Compelled by the pervasive presence and voice of her mother, Quinisha launches an impossible campaign against Franklin Brother #1, jeopardizing her relationships with her sister, Trish Tate; lover, Frank Minor; and best friends Mae Rains and Sweetie Minor. In the tangle of unraveling secrets, Quinisha struggles to make sense of grief, duty, and love and is increasingly unsure of her ability to control her mother’s influence. Extending the themes of frailty and brokenness from my poetry collection, Begin with a Failed Body, this narrative figures the central character’s humanity as revealed through her frailty rather than her strength.