Ford’s debut novel explores lives of 4 generations of Cherokee women

Multimedia Reporter
08/04/2020 09:00 AM
Main Cherokee Phoenix
“Crooked Hallelujah,” the debut novel from Cherokee author Kelli Jo Ford, was released on July 14 and explores the mother-daughter relationship as well as life itself. COURTESY
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Kelli Jo Ford
RICHMOND, Va. – With a nod to Cherokee women and family, Cherokee author Kelli Jo Ford created a world where these elements take the forefront while drawing from her life. Ford’s debut novel, “Crooked Hallelujah” was released on July 14 and explores the lives of four generations of women, abandonment issues and adapting to a new way of life.

“‘Crooked Hallelujah’ is about four generations of women in a Cherokee family but mostly it follows the two youngest generations, who are Justine and Reney,” she said. “It follows them from a fictional town in Cherokee Nation to a fictional town in north Texas and kind of back and forth as they live their lives and try to settle and make a better life for one another.”

When first writing the book, Ford said she thought it would mainly follow the character Justine, but it turned into something more. “The more time I spent with her the more it was clear that I couldn’t tell her story without telling her daughter’s story. Then you can’t tell the daughter’s story without telling the great grandmother’s story. Their lives are just sort of inextricable from one another because of the way that they need one another and support one another or disagree with one another.”

Ford said for more than 10 years she was working on short stories that wound up being her novel’s foundation.

“It became clear that I was trying to tell a larger story, but I remained committed to the short story as a form. I never wanted the traditional novel with chapters because I wanted each story to stand alone as its own piece,” she said. “So each story should be able to be read separately and feel some kind of completion, but then you add them altogether and you get a larger story.”

Ford said the characters and situations in her book, in ways, tie to her life.

“The youngest protagonist in the book, her name is Reney, some of the bones of my story are similar. I grew up in the Cherokee Nation when I was little and then I moved to north Texas. I also grew up in a household, sometimes we had four generations of Cherokee women or girls in the same household living together,” she said. “I really just took inspirations from the women who raised me and the strength and the love that I came from. Despite hardships and struggle we were always pulling for each other.”

The telling of a story of the mother-daughter relationship is something that Ford said she “felt compelled to tell.”

“It feels like a really personal story from my heart and it feels important in ways and speaks to larger issues and I think that that’s certainly there,” she said. “I do hope that it speaks to other people who may see things in there that feel meaningful to them as well.”

Ford has won The Paris Review’s Plimpton Prize, a Katharine Bakeless Nason Award at Bread Loaf and has participated in a National Artist Fellowship by the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation and in the Dobie Paisano Fellowship. Her work has appeared in The Paris Review, Virginia Quarterly Review and The Missouri Review among other publications.

“Crooked Hallelujah” is at local bookstores, on Amazon and other online stores.
About the Author • 918-453-5269


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