What started as a high school project turned into five years of work and a self-published novel that’s already in its second printing. Crystal Bradshaw, sophomore majoring in creative writing, discovered through research for an assignment on family history that her great-great-great-great grandmother was part of the exoduster movement that brought former slaves to the Midwest. The book, “Eliza: A Generational Journey,” begins with Eliza’s life as a slave in Kentucky and continues through her journey of emancipation and her life in Jetmore, Kansas, where the Bradshaw family has now lived for 134 years.
We caught up with Crystal to hear more about the book and what’s next for this young author.
Hometown: Jetmore, Kansas
Undergraduate major: Creative Writing
Why did you choose your major? I love to read and write. So when I found a major that allowed me to pursue my dreams, I became really excited.
How did you decide to write the novel? I decided to write a novel because I didn’t want all of my hard work and research to just go to waste. I didn’t want it sitting in some binder with dust collecting on it. I wanted to ensure that future generations of Bradshaws wouldn’t have to go through what I went through and will know where their roots are from.
What was the most surprising thing you came across during your research? The discovery that my family has lived in the same town for over 130 years! Eliza, my 4-times great grandmother and protagonist of the novel, is even buried in the Jetmore cemetery. When I discovered this, I rushed my family over to the cemetery and we all stood around her grave in amazement. It was a really emotional and powerful moment for us. We had finally found our roots. They had been at our own feet the whole time.
What has the response been to the book? To be honest, I was very nervous how the book would be received. But to my utter surprise, the book has been highly praised and very well received. Since its first hardcopy publication in December, over 200 copies have been sold already. I am even receiving book orders all the way from Kentucky. An excerpt of the novel has already been accepted and printed in a literary journal called the Kentucky Monthly. To be honest, it has just spread like wild fire and I am very, very thankful to all those who have helped and supported me.
How has writing the book impacted you? It has definitely made me stop and look at things a lot closer, such as history, genealogy, research, and authors’ writing styles. It has also taught me that one must work hard for their dream. That, yes, there will be times you are discouraged, rejected, and even on the brink of letting go of your dream … but just keep pressing forward, never let go, and in the end it is completely worth it.
What have you learned through this process? I learned that the publishing world is very difficult. But I have also learned valuable skills such as how to convert a Word document into a novel format, how to design my own cover, design book pages, collaborate with printing companies, format an e-book, etc. Essentially, I learned how to run my own little business.
Where can readers find the book? Readers can order paperback copies for $14.95 at http://www.facebook.com/CrystalBradshawWriting. I am also currently working on selling the paperback copies in local Lawrence bookstores such as The Raven. An e-book version is also available on Amazon for $9.95
“My favorite KU memory is…” It’s so hard just to only choose one. My most favorite memory would be my first public reading of the novel when it was still a manuscript. After I had finished reading and the room was dead quiet, I could feel the audience’s eyes on me. I hadn’t realized how strong the passage that I read was until that particular moment, the words – my own words – echoing in my ears, my throat choked with emotion.
“I became a Jayhawk because…” I decided to attend KU because of the Honors program, which I was accepted into, but ultimately it was because of the English department here. I really wanted to make a career out of reading, writing, and publishing and the KU English department showed me that I could pursue my dream here. The faculty and staff are very supportive and have been very excited about the news of the novel. To some of them, I think it is rewarding to see an English student make that step from a writer to an author.
The best advice I ever got: Hold on. Never give up.
What inspires you? Hearing stories of people achieving their goals and dreams. It’s truly amazing to be able to experience their joy and see the smile on their face.
What’s next? More books, and possibly even movies. Eventually my own publishing company. But in the near, near future it’s the opportunity to walk through the campanile and down the Hill, chanting “Rock Chalk!” 🙂