I’ve Got Questions for Mimi Herman

Editor’s Note: This exchange is part of a series of brief interviews with emerging writers of recent or forthcoming books. If you enjoyed it, please visit other interviews in the I’ve Got Questions feature.

The Kudzu Queen by Mimi Herman
  • What’s the title of your book? Fiction? Nonfiction? Poetry? Who is the publisher and what’s the publication date?

The Kudzu Queen, Fiction, Regal House Publishing, January 10, 2023

  • In a couple of sentences, what’s the book about?

In 1941, James T. Cullowee, the Kudzu King, arrives in Cooper County, NC to spread the gospel of kudzu—claiming it will improve the soil, feed cattle, even cure headaches. When Mr. Cullowee organizes a kudzu festival, complete with a beauty pageant, fifteen-year-old Mattie Lee Watson wants to be crowned Kudzu Queen and capture his attention—until she discovers that Mr. Cullowee, like the kudzu he promotes, has a dark and predatory side. Based on historical facts, The Kudzu Queen unravels a tangle of sexuality, power, race, and kudzu through an irresistibly delightful (and mostly honest) narrator.

  • What’s the book’s genre (for fiction and nonfiction) or primary style (for poetry)?

Historical Fiction, Southern Fiction

  • What’s the nicest thing anyone has said about the book so far?

Okay, I’m having a hard time choosing among these three, so take your pick!

“Funny, sad, and tender… Mimi Herman has written a novel that possesses a true and hard-won understanding of the South.” —David Sedaris

“A handsome devil pays a call to a community in North Carolina, and in this funny and moving novel by Mimi Herman, we see the result. The Kudzu Queen is about beauty, and familial love, and what we may owe to our friends and neighbors. This novel has both sweetness and suspense, and its cast of characters will stay in your memory long after you have closed this wonderful book.” —Charles Baxter

“What a wonderful novel! Mimi Herman brings us a charming charlatan, a farming community at a major turning point, and the most appealing young heroine since Scout…. This book demands to be a movie!” —Lee Smith

  • What book or books is yours comparable to or a cross between? [Is your book like Moby Dick or maybe it’s more like Frankenstein meets Peter Pan?]

I’d say The Kudzu Queen’s closest cousin is To Kill a Mockingbird. Mattie is exactly what Scout might have grown into, a few years down the road: sassy and fierce and perhaps too smart for her own good—certainly too smart for the good of anyone who aims to hurt people she cares about. And then there’s Atticus, both Harper Lee’s version and Gregory Peck’s. I think he and Mattie’s dad would have gotten along just fine.

  • Why this book? Why now?

Because I wanted all the voices in this book to emerge from my head and find homes in the hearts of readers.

  • Other than writing this book, what’s the best job you’ve ever had?

Co-directing Writeaways writing workshops! My partner, John Yewell and I created Writeaways ten years ago, and we now have workshops in France, Italy, New Mexico, Ireland, and online. It’s amazing to be part of something that helps people become the writers they want to be, whether they’re just starting out or have been writing and publishing for decades.

  • What do you want readers to take away from the book?

I would love for readers to find in themselves Mattie’s kindness and sense of humor, and the courage to do what they believe is right.

  • What food and/or music do you associate with the book?

I had no idea I was so foodcentric until I went through this book looking for all the things to eat and drink that I’d included, and came up with 44 different ones—four with kudzu and 40 without. I’d have to say the ones that probably resonate the most are kudzu jelly (available now from Darryl and Tamera Wilson at Carolina Kudzu Crazy!), those elusive gingersnaps with that perfect crunch, and the beets Mattie would like to send on a slow boat to China.

  • What book(s) are you reading currently?

I’m reading Swamplandia, by Karen Russell, for the first time, and rereading Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees. Both wonderful books!

Mimi Herman

Learn more about Mimi on her website.

Follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

Buy the book from the publisher (Regal House Publishing), Amazon.com, or Bookshop.org.

About the author

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