My great affection for the South was sorely tested.
In 1968, an historical year of racial unrest, Judith Richards moved from the Midwest to Montgomery, Alabama. “This was still in the days of segregation.” In Montgomery she met Terry Cline who had developed an educational program on animals that was offered to all schools in the region and paid for by a large corporation. Cline hired Judith to work with the animals and visit rural black schools. “I remember the excitement of the children to see a live lion cub, or a chimpanzee, a boa constrictor or a coatimundi, and to learn how that animal thinks or reacts to stimuli. We brought a little of a larger world to the students. It was a learning experience for them, and for me. But the ugliness of racism that I observed every day, especially in the most mundane situations, was a revelation and a heartbreak. “My great affection for the South was sorely tested.
“On a visit back home I learned that the small town I’d lived in when I was a child outlawed the presence of black people on the streets after dark.” The reality of the era was that the contradictions of good manners, “Christian” behavior, and small-mindedness existed side by side.
Judith’s experiences during segregation and stories she heard were grist for her novel Too Blue To Fly. The book was short-listed for the Lillian Smith Award, and won Alabama’s library association award for fiction.
While lecturing in schools for the deaf in Alabama, Judith learned sign language. She wrote a story about a young deaf man who wants to be a writer. He is the hero of her first novel, Sounds of Silence, published by G. P. Putnam.
Judith’s second novel, Summer Lightning, was a world-wide bestseller. St. Martin’s Press, Literary Guild, Reader’s Digest, and many foreign publishers all loved the story of a redheaded, six year old truant who smoked cigarettes and roamed the Everglades of Florida with his friend Mr. McCree, an old naturalist. Summer Lightning is based on the real life childhood of Judith’s mentor, Terry Cline.
Thelonius Rising, Judith’s sixth book, reflects her lifelong affection for the city of New Orleans and its culture. Thelonious Monk DeCay is the nine year old protagonist of this story set in the time of Hurricane Katrina. Thelonius Rising will be introduced as an electronic book soon.
Judith Richards lives on Mobile Bay in Alabama with her husband, writer C. Terry Cline Jr., who ignited her interest in writing.