Interview with Sadeqa Johnson - THE HOUSE OF EVE

Interview with Sadeqa Johnson - THE HOUSE OF EVE

In this interview, Sadeqa and I discuss The House of Eve, how she was inspired by her family's history to write this story, colorism in the Black community, what she learned while writing this novel, her stunning cover, finding the right title for the book, and much more.

In this interview, Sadeqa and I discuss The House of Eve, how she was inspired by her family's history to write this story, colorism in the Black community, what she learned while writing this novel, her stunning cover, finding the right title for the book, and much more.

Sadeqa’s recommended reads are:

  1. River Sing Me Home by Eleanor Shearer
  2. The Violin Conspiracy by Brendan Slocumb

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[00:11] Cindy: Welcome to the award winning Thoughts from a Page Podcast. A member of the Evergreen Podcast Network hosted by me, Cindy Burnett, a voracious reader and book columnist who provides you with casual author conversations, book recommendation episodes, and insider information on all of the newest releases that I have read and endorse, and on the publishing industry in my Behind The Scenes series. With so many books coming out weekly, it can be hard to decide what to read, so I find the best ones and share them with you. For more book recommendations or to find my backlist of interviews, visit my website at In 2023, I have a new segment on my Tuesday episodes called Read Alike Requests. Listeners can submit a book they loved and tell me why they loved it, and I will suggest some similar reads. There is a Google Form included in today's Show Notes if you would like to send in a request. If you love to read, I hope you will consider joining my patreon group to access additional content, including bonus episodes and early reads with pre pub author chats. For March. There are two books. Colleen Oakley's new book, The Mostly True Story of Tanner and Louise. And Fifth Avenue Glamour girl by Renee Rosen. And for April, my selection is the Comeback Summer by writing duo Ali Brady. The link to join is in the Show Notes. Today I am chatting with Sadeqa Johnson about the House of Eve. Sadeqa is the award-winning author of four other books, including Yellow Wife. Yellow wife is a 2022 Hurston Wright Foundation legacy finalist, the Library of Virginia's Literary People's Choice Award winner and a Barnes and Noble Book Club pick. She teaches in the MFA program at Drexel University. Originally from Philadelphia, she currently lives near Richmond, Virginia with her husband and three children. I hope you enjoy our conversation. 


Welcome, Sadeqa. How are you today?


[01:56] Sadeqa: I'm great. How are you?


[01:58] Cindy: I am great as well, and I'm thrilled to pieces that you're back. And I'm even more thrilled because I loved the House of Eve. I just can't wait to talk about it.


[02:06] Sadeqa: Oh, wow, that makes me so happy.


[02:08] Cindy: Well, before we dive in, if you will give me a quick synopsis of the book for those that won't have read it yet.


[02:14] Sadeqa: Sure. So the House of Eve is the story of Ruby Pearsall. She's a 15 year old girl who lives in North Philadelphia, and she has been given an opportunity for a scholarship. Well, she falls in love, and it's one of those taboo loves, we'll call it, and it almost upends everything. And so she has a lot of ups and downs which she has to overcome. At the same time, Eleanor is a young girl who just started at Howard University, and she arrives at the school not knowing anything about Black culture and the university. And she falls in love with a young, handsome, very wealthy man named William Pride and his family is old school money, and so they don't just let anyone into their fold. And so Eleanor has to go around lots of ups and downs, and she'll do just about anything to make her life fit. These two girls, they meet in very unexpected ways, and it's a story that I am just super excited about.


[03:22] Cindy: It's really just so good. I actually was on Goodreads ahead of time, just going through summaries because I read it a little while ago, and the reviews are glowing. I mean, absolutely glowing, just one after another. And it just made me so happy to see that.


[03:37] Sadeqa: Oh, yes. I try not to read, but I do check the stars, so I just keep an eye on my stars as opposed to reading individual reviews.


[03:48] Cindy: Well, your stars are quite high, so I thought that was wonderful, and I was very happy to see it. So part of the inspiration for your book comes from your own family, correct?


[03:58] Sadeqa: Yes.


[04:00] Cindy: So why don't we talk a little bit about that and then how you decided to turn it into a story.


[04:04] Sadeqa: Well, after I wrote Yellow Wife, which is my fourth novel and my first historical novel, I was a little bit afraid. I wasn't quite sure where I wanted to go next. So I sort of found some comfort in trying something completely different. So I told myself, as a distraction, that I was going to write a YA series. And I had these four characters, and they were in a Philadelphia neighborhood. And my agent said, “I'm not quite sure about this change of career path.” And one of the characters just really stuck with me, and it was Ruby. And what I knew about her was that she was 15, she was very smart, she was shaped like a Coca Cola bottle, and men, grown men, cat-called her on the street, and her mother wished she had not been born. And so that was what I knew. And I started to think about my own family history, and I remembered my grandmother telling me that she had been the black sheep of her family. She got pregnant with my mother at 14, unmarried, out of wedlock, and had her at 15. And there was so much shame and this was the early 1950s that there was so much shame around it that they hid the birth of the baby from everyone, including the child. And so my mother said she didn't know my grandmother was her mother until she was in the third grade. And I thought, “how is that possible?” I could always feel sort of this friction between them, this tension. I knew that they loved each other, but there was this other layer that I just couldn't figure out. I couldn't figure it out. And so I thought about that, and I started doing some more thinking. My books always start with a what if, and my what if was what if my grandmother had money and opportunity, how could things have been different for her? And this led me to the discovery of maternity homes, which was quite popular during this time. In fact, between 1945 and 1975, 1.5 million babies were born in these homes. And oftentimes young girls went into the homes. Sometimes they knew what they were there for, sometimes they didn't. They were coerced, they were tricked. They were forced to give up their children. But as I was learning about these maternity homes and this need for these babies, I couldn't locate a single Black woman in the story. And I found that odd. I couldn't figure out why. And so I did a little bit more research and I realized that this was before IVF, this was before adoption was sort of a celebrated thing in our country. And so this was a way for people who could not conceive a baby to have a baby, and it was primarily for white women. And I wasn't satisfied with that answer. And so I kept digging and I found a book called Our Kind of People by Lawrence Otis Graham. And he talked about these upper echelon, very well off Black families. And it was started around Reconstruction and it went all the way up until the 80s he went into different cities and he talked about these families. And in Washington, DC, they were lawyers and doctors and judges, and they all went to Howard University. And I thought, “Well, what did they do if they wanted to have a baby in secret?” And that was sort of how the story started to come together for me, merging parts of my own family history.


[07:45] Cindy: With research that I did, I think in 2023, it's mind boggling to try to conceive of the idea that it was embarrassing to have a baby out of wedlock. And also, a lot of times people did not want to acknowledge adoption either.


[08:01] Sadeqa: Yes, really. I really had to sort of pull back the layers of time so that I could slip into that time space. Also the women did what they were told. It wasn't a lot of talk back or kickback. They did what they were told. And so in these situations, these women, these girls, they went into these homes and they really didn't feel like they had a choice.


[08:25] Cindy: And even if they didn't want to do what they were told, there weren't any options most of the time.


[08:30] Sadeqa: Yes, exactly.


[08:32] Cindy: I just thought that was so sad. And I think it must be difficult to be somebody writing now to try to go back to those sensibilities and to understand it and write like it's that time period and what's happening. And you must have so much empathy for your characters as well.


[08:48] Sadeqa: Oh, absolutely. I mean, when I write, I'm sort of like a method actor, so I sort of embody the characters. I remember I was working on a scene and my daughter walked into my office and she dropped a book. And I, like, jumped out of my skin. And she's like, “What is going on with you?” And I'm like, “Well, my body might be here, but my mind and my soul and everything else is in 1950.” You know, so I totally, I totally get into the story and feel them flowing through my body. And so I feel all of the emotions that they feel as they're going.


[09:25] Cindy: Through them, channeling them.


[09:27] Sadeqa: Absolutely, yeah. I see myself as the conduit. Like, the story chooses me, and my job really is to get into that space where I could receive it. And I look at myself as the typist. My job is just to get it down and just keep getting it down, getting down what I hear in my head.


[09:45] Cindy: I remember we talked about this last time, and it was such a vivid description that it stuck with me. Well, what about your research? What all did you have to do in the way of research?


[09:56] Sadeqa: So for this book, it wasn't as intense for me as writing Yellow Wife because Yellow Wife took place in the 1850s, and so I had to do a lot of digging for this story. I spent a lot of time with family members. I talked to my mom, and I sort of jarred her memory on what it was like growing up in North Philadelphia. And she grew up maybe a decade after this time, but she was able to still paint a really clear picture for me. I talked to my dad about what was hot and what was happening in Philadelphia during that time. I also went to Washington, DC. And I walked on You Street and they have a tour where they have different plaques up as you walk down U Street to talk about different moments in Black history. And I read a lot of books. I always read books that inform my writing, whether it's nonfiction or fiction, just something that's going to sort of spark me to get the story out.


[10:53] Cindy: Did you spend time researching any of these homes for unwed mothers?


[10:58] Sadeqa: Oh, my goodness. I read a book by Anne Fessler called The Girls Who Were Left Behind. Oh, my gosh. I can't think of the title, but the author's name is Anne Fessler. And she actually was phenomenal. I sent her an email and I asked questions, and she got right back to me and helped me sort of sort this through. There's a lot of newspaper articles online about these homes, and they weren't just in America. Surprisingly, there's a lot of stories about women in Canada and women in Ireland. I mean, it was a worldwide phenomena that they had these maternity homes for these women, and they started off as being a place for prostitutes and women of that sort. And then it sort of grew into this. There were homes that were specific for women who had means so that people wouldn't know what happened to them. It was like they went away on a vacation and they came back and nothing happened. But the scars were always on the inside for these women. On the outside, it looked like they were able to get their lives back, but oftentimes they never, ever forgot about their children.


[12:08] Cindy: It would be so difficult.


[12:10] Sadeqa: Yeah. I mean, I have three kids. I can't imagine it.


[12:13] Cindy: I agree. Both Ruby and Eleanor encounter racism. It's different types of racism. But can you talk a little bit about that?


[12:21] Sadeqa: Well, for Ruby, she is poor and she's Black, and she doesn't have a father in her life. And so she is sort of starting from the bottom, and she's trying to pull herself up by her bootstraps. And she spends a lot of time with her Aunt Marie, who lives in a home that she rents. And the landlords, they want their money, and she falls in love with the landlord's son, and they are a very unlikely match. And so very well meaning adults know that this is not a good situation. But when you're the person in love, I love to say that love knows no color, love knows no boundaries, love knows no class. But for her, it's a hard lesson that she has to learn. And with Eleanor, it's a little bit more racism within the Black race because of colorism. And so William's family is very light skinned, and they want to keep it that way. And so when she spends time with them, she always feels like she's not good enough. She's on the outside looking in. And it's something that I like to explore a lot, is colorism within the Black community. I find it fascinating. It's definitely leftover baggage from slavery. When the enslaved people were separated, the light skinned people normally worked in the homes because there were oftentimes the masters' children, and then the darker skinned people worked in the field. And so that was the way they separated themselves. So as they went into the they sort of, kind of kept that separation because oftentimes because they had that connection, they had better opportunities for jobs and better opportunities to be educated if you were lighter skinned. And I'm really just interested in it. So it's something that I explore in my novels when I can. And The House of Eve was a really good place to spend time exploring it because of the time period as well.


[14:29] Cindy: And I loved your author's note, the entire author's note, because I think it's fascinating with historical fiction, but particularly the part about Toni Morrison and how she had not discovered that this was a thing in the Black community until she went to college.


[14:42] Sadeqa: Yeah, Toni Morrison grew up in Ohio, and I was watching her documentary, The Pieces I Am, and she said the first time she experienced colorism in the Black community is when she stepped foot on Howard University's campus, which is a Historical Black College and University for those who don't know. And she was hit with colorism, and she didn't realize that because when she grew up in Ohio, she grew up with Polish and Germans and Italians, and she said that everybody was just trying to survive. They weren't pitting themselves against each other.


[15:19] Cindy: I think it's interesting, and I think in any community, there's always going to be this distinction. Nobody wants to be on the bottom. And I think there's just this kind of push to make sure you're not on the bottom. And so I think that comes out in different ways. And it's interesting because to me, that probably is one way colorism exists, is because everybody would like to make sure they're not on the bottom.


[15:40] Sadeqa: Absolutely. I mean, we see that playing out still today everywhere.


[15:44] Cindy: Yes. I mean, in many places and in many cultures, races, all of it. I also liked that you toggled between the points of view with Eleanor and Ruby. Did you have one that you enjoyed writing more than the other? I often, as I'm reading historical fiction, have one point of view. I prefer reading, but they were equally balanced here for me.


[16:04] Sadeqa: Oh, that's good to hear. Well, I have to say that Ruby came first, so she was definitely the character that was easiest for me to access. She was the first character, and quite frankly, when I started The House of Eve, it really was just Ruby's story. I thought the whole book was going to be about her. And it wasn't until I was about halfway through my outline that I was sitting in my office and it felt like Eleanor just sort of walked in. And she came, and she was so full of rage and she was full of desperation, and I could just feel it coming off of her skin, like it was so powerful. And I thought, “Well, where did she come from?” But she wanted my attention. And I thought, “Well, let me follow her and see where this is going to lead.” And I'm so glad that I did, because I think she really completed the story. It would have been a completely different story if I had only just wrote it from Ruby's perspective.


[17:05] Cindy: Well, I was going to ask you next how much the book had changed from when you started in its final form.


[17:11] Sadeqa: It changes every draft. For me, the first draft is really just hacking through the woods, just trying to get the story down on the page. And then when I go in on my second draft, I'm adding a little bit more detail and a little bit more color, and I'm trying to make sure that everything is sort of merging and working together. By the time I get to the draft that I'm working with my actual editor. They give a lot of comments. I think my editorial page was twelve pages. And most comments I take. A few I may push back on just because maybe they don't understand what my intention was. But when I work on that draft with my editors, sometimes that's like doing surgery. Some things come out, some things have to be pushed up. So it changes, it ebbs and it flows. I would say the heart of the story is always the same. The plot points are usually the same. It's just the way in which I get there might change a little bit as I go through my different drafts.


[18:14] Cindy: But both characters were there from the beginning. In your very first draft?


[18:18] Sadeqa: No, Eleanor came in during the outline. Thank goodness. Oh, my gosh, that would have been so much extra work. So I'm glad she showed up when she did.


[18:28] Cindy: You have to thank her.


[18:29] Sadeqa: Yes.


[18:31] Cindy: Well, what was the highlight of writing The House of Eve?


[18:34] Sadeqa: The highlight for me, I would say one of the things that I did different on this book that I had not done on my four previous novels was that I gave myself the gift of going away and sort of holding up with the characters. And so I would spend a week to ten days every so often where I had no distractions. I would either be at a writer's retreat or I would rent an airbnb, and I would non stop be in their world. And that was a new way of writing for me. And it helped me to really get closer to the characters in a way that I don't think, I mean, I'm always close to my characters, but it was a deeper connection, having that uninterrupted time where no one was asking me, “Mom, what's for dinner?” I was able to just be with Eleanor and Ruby and get their story down. So as a writer, the discovery of, “Oh, I need to really be in isolation to create my best work,” was really good. And I really pushed myself, every novel to do something different. And with The House of Eve, it was the first time that I had written a book in two different characters' points of views, and I used first person and third person. So that was a new discovery for me, and it was something that I thought worked really well. But I really had to challenge myself on how to make all the pieces to their puzzle fit.


[20:04] Cindy: Was it harder to write with multiple points of view or easier?


[20:08] Sadeqa: I would say this book was harder to write with multiple points of views. And my approach was that I wrote it almost as if I was writing two different stories for a bit, and then I would go back and braid the stories together. So, for instance, I wrote part one in Ruby's voice, and then I would write part one and Eleanor's voice, and then I would have to take the two sections and figure out where my entry points were to sort of braid the story together. And I hadn't done that before, so that was hard, but it was also a lot of fun. I like to challenge myself to do something different with each book. I always want to grow, I always want to learn a little bit more about craft and sort of test the limits of my own belief system and see what I could do that's going to make this book stand out.


[21:01] Cindy: Well, it's definitely going to stand out.


[21:04] Sadeqa: Thank you.


[21:05] Cindy: Well, let's talk a little bit about the title and the cover. This cover is absolutely stunning. The second I saw it back in the fall, before I even knew it was your book, I just saw the cover and I was like, oh, my gosh, I have to read that book. It's beautiful. And then I was thrilled when I saw it was your book.


[21:20] Sadeqa: Oh, yes. I love the cover so much. I mean, I couldn't be more pleased.


[21:25] Cindy: So how did it come about?


[21:27] Sadeqa: Covers take a long time to come about, I have to say. We go back and forth. The art team will send a first round, and the first round is always nowhere near what I have in my head. And it just, I don't know, it's sometimes excruciating because I feel like we're not going to get it right. I'm always so nervous when we're on that first or second round, and I'm like, “Oh, my gosh, this is not working.” And then when we get to about the third round, things start to click. And when I saw that blue dress one, because I had the yellow dress for the yellow wife and you sort of want your books to sort of if they stand side by side, people know that it's your book. So that was one thing. But the light in the book and the house in the back. I don't know if you know, but that's the maternity home behind her in the back and the suitcase. And even though you can't see her face, you know that that is a woman of ambition and a woman with heart and a woman who's going to go after what she wants. And I think the cover really says it all.


[22:30] Cindy: I think you're exactly right. I wasn't sure whether it was the maternity home or whether it was Howard University, but I knew it was one of them because with the suitcase, I wasn't sure, is it the school or is it the maternity home? But I figured it was one or the other.


[22:42] Sadeqa: And I think it could work both ways because we didn't put two women on the cover. Even though it's a story between two women, you could sort of use your imagination. Is it Eleanor? Is it Ruby? Is it the home? Is it Howard University? Like, it really leaves a lot to the imagination.


[23:01] Cindy: I loved that about it. How about the house of Eve as the title?


[23:05] Sadeqa: Wow. So that was also another thing that was a long time coming. I had different working titles and we actually had another title almost up until the galley was printed. And then, thank goodness, I have such a fantastic team over at Simon and Schuster because they just were relentless about really trying to make sure we had the absolute right title. And The House of Eve was born sort of out of Eleanor's character. It was something that she was thinking about and that sort of made it work.


[23:37] Cindy: Well, I love it and it gives you an indication, a little bit, of what the book is going to be about.


[23:41] Sadeqa: Yeah, I agree.


[23:43] Cindy: Well, before we wrap up, what have you read recently that you really liked?


[23:46] Sadeqa: Well, I finished reading River Sing Me Home by Eleanor Shearer, which I thought was lyrical and beautiful. I mean, it's just really beautifully written. get to read books before they come out, so I think it's going to be coming out in the next week or so. And then I am listening. I always read a book and I'm always listening to a book, and I'm listening right now to The Violin Conspiracy by Brendan Slocum. And I'm almost at the end. I think I have an hour and a half left. And it is another one that is just beautifully written. It has me on the edge of my seat. I cannot wait to know what's happening next. So those are the last two books, or those are the two books that really have sort of tickled my fancy.


[24:31] Cindy: And Brendan Slocum has a new book coming out this year.


[24:34] Sadeqa: I just saw that on Instagram. I think it's coming out in April. I will definitely be in line.


[24:40] Cindy: Yes. I'm going to try to track it down soon and get it read.


[24:43] Sadeqa: Yeah.


[24:44] Cindy: Good. Well, thank you so much for joining me today, Sadeqa. I can't wait for everyone to read The House of Eve. It's just such a beautiful story.


[24:52] Sadeqa: Oh, I am so glad you enjoyed it. And I can't wait. I'm counting down the days and I'll be on a six week book tour. So if anyone is interested in coming out and meeting me on the road, please go to my website,, and click on the events section and hopefully I'll be in a city near you.


[25:14] Cindy: Okay, that's great to know. And then you're on instagram as Sadeqa Johnson. Is that right?


[25:18] Sadeqa: I'm on Instagram, as @sadeqasays.


[25:21] Cindy: That's right. I knew that. I would assume you'll probably have information there about your tour as well. Closer in time.


[25:28] Sadeqa: It's up there. I have been sort of really diving into social media for this book.


[25:34] Cindy: Are you coming to Houston?


[25:36] Sadeqa: I'm not, and you're the third person to ask. I wish I was coming to Houston, but hopefully there'll be an extension to the tour in some of those cities that I don't make on the first round, I'll be there on the second round.


[25:48] Cindy: Let me know and I'll keep an eye out.


[25:50] Sadeqa: Absolutely.


[25:51] Cindy: Well, thanks again for coming on the Thoughts from a Page Podcast.


[25:54] Sadeqa: Thank you again for having me. It's been my pleasure.


[25:59] Cindy: Thank you so much for listening to my podcast. If you liked this episode, and I hope you 

did, please follow me on Instagram @ThoughtsFromaPage. Consider joining my patreon group to access bonus content and support the podcast. Tell all of your friends about the show and rate it or subscribe to it. Wherever you listen to your podcasts, I would really appreciate it. The book discussed in this episode can be purchased at my bookshop storefront, and the link is in the show notes. I hope you'll tune in next time.


Sadeqa JohnsonProfile Photo

Sadeqa Johnson


Sadeqa Johnson is the award-winning author of And Then There Was Me, Second House From the Corner, Love in a Carry-on Bag and Yellow Wife.
Yellow Wife is a 2022 Hurston/Wright Foundation Legacy finalist, a BCALA Literary Honoree, the Library of Virginia’s Literary People’s Choice Award winner, and a Barnes & Noble book club pick in paperback. Her other accolades include winning the National Book Club Conference Award, the Phillis Wheatley Book Award, and the USA Best Book Award for Best Fiction. She is a Kimbilio Fellow and teaches in the MFA program at Drexel University. Originally from Philadelphia, she currently lives near Richmond, Virginia, with her husband and three children.