Meet O.H. Bennett

The new novel by O.H. Bennett, Recognition, was just released by our Bolden imprint a few weeks ago. It’s already earned high praise from Publishers Weekly, and we think it’s a terrific summer read–a twisty, engrossing story about a woman who, while passing a panhandler in her car, thinks she recognizes the face of the long-lost husband she’s believed dead for the past decade. Below find a brief Q&A we did with Bennett, the author of four novels (two published by Agate Bolden) who lives outside Washington DC.

What inspired you to write Recognition?

Recognition came from two ideas merging. One came from an article I’d read about a woman whose husband had disappeared. She never learned if he had been murdered or just walked away. I saw another news story about a mother who’d abandoned her family; she dropped her kids off at school, turned the car down the school driveway, and then kept going. Her family didn’t hear of her again for a dozen years. That sets you to wondering why people choose to kill their own lives. I walk to work from Union Station down the streets of DC and see the homeless, some sleeping under plastic tarps, some engrossed in conversation with what looks to the rest of us like air. We’ve all wondered how they got there, what it would take for us to be there. I imagined, what if I saw a homeless person one day and knew exactly who he was?

How did writing this book compare to your previous works?

This story stayed in my head without more than a sentence or two being put on paper for a very long time, years in fact. Then suddenly it wanted to be written and all other projects were pushed to the side. I think this book is a faster read than my other books. There’s only one viewpoint in Recognition and it zooms, or so my wife says.

Did you do any research for the book?

The research was conducted in pieces over a long period of time. It entailed volunteering in a soup kitchen, speaking with homeless individuals, and knowing of people who have vanished. I’ve seen homeless men cleaning up in the bathrooms of libraries and sitting on the same street corners day after day. I have known of people who drop out and fall off the radar as Warren Reynolds did. One always wonders how people get that point.

Who have been some of your own writing influences?

I have a host of favorite authors, but to the extent that they’ve influenced my work, I don’t know. I sure hope so. I am an admirer of the works of Edward P. Jones, Jesmyn Ward, Richard Bausch, and Ernest J. Gaines.

What’s next for you?

I hope ghosts are next. I’ve written a ghost story in which we find that ghosts, like the proverbial sound of a tree falling in the woods, need receptors in order to really exist. Someone has to make them real. I guess we choose, in this way, whether to be haunted or not. And I’ve also begun the biggest project of my writing life—but it is in the first trimester and so it is much too early to make any announcements. I believe in jinxes when it comes to novel writing.

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