Kimberly Scott

Kimberly Scott
On The Bus. A Novel of Families Trapped by Forced Busing

Interviewed by: Lauretta Pierce
January 3, 2008

Q.    Who is Kimberly Scott?

A.    Like most of us, I am a different person at different times and places, as need dictates. I’m the doting mother of two wonderful daughters, wife of another author (and therefore editor and editee), artist and potter, curious student of our extraordinary world and its people. And the idealistic young girl who dreamed of being a writer someday and is now living the dream.

And yes, I realize editee is not really a word.

Q.    What inspired you to write a novel surrounding the Massachusetts school integration?

A.    I moved to Boston in 1989 and had lived here for ten years when I saw an article in the newspaper about the 25th anniversary of the busing crisis. I was stunned at how enormous an event it had been, and yet I had absolutely no knowledge of it. In my ten years living here I had become friendly with many people who had grown up in Boston during that time, yet I had heard not the slightest mention of busing or school desegregation from anyone. No one talks about it here. It’s like the crazy old aunt that lives in the attic; everyone knows she’s there but no one dares mention her.

Q.    How did you come about the title "On The Bus... A Novel of Families Trapped by Forced Busing?"

A.    It was a serious debate among my publisher and me as to whether to use the term “forced busing.” At the height of the crisis in the 1970s, the term was understood to be a code phrase for the anti-busing (read: anti-integration) crowd. I was of course hesitant to use anything that seemed so one-sided and to many eyes, frankly racist. But in the end, we decided that the term drove home the point the book is trying to make, which is that so many families, both black and white, were forced into this horrible situation, with no real control over their children’s welfare.

Q.    Why did you choose Massachusetts as the setting to relay your story about busing?

A.    In large part, because I live here. I could walk the streets my characters walk. I appreciated the irony of setting so much of the racial hostilities against the backdrop of the Bunker Hill Monument, a symbol of America’s fight for freedom and equality. I also found it ironic that Massachusetts likes to think of itself as so liberal and tolerant—and in very many ways, it is. But this chapter in its history is anything but—it’s very much a black eye on that tolerant reputation.

Q.    Would you give the readers a brief contrast between Margaret and Vera's characters and their families?

A.    I think they have more in common with each other than in contrast, although neither woman would see it that way. Vera and Margaret are both moms trying to raise teenagers, a difficult enough task in the best of times. But these women must do it amid the fury of racial hatred and street fighting. Both women are faced with the prospect of sending their child to a school and a neighborhood that will definitely be inhospitable—and potentially dangerous—for them. Margaret opts not to send her son into a black neighborhood school and allows him to drop out altogether. Vera warily sends her son into a white school in the hope that he will finally get a decent education, and also with the understanding that this was part of the larger civil rights struggle as a whole and everyone must do their part, despite personal risks. Both mothers want what is best for their children and both are very much afraid for them in the perilous time in which they live.

Q.    How does the blacks and whites situation at the Jena High School in Central Louisiana compare to the black and white situation in your novel?

A.    Sad to say, there are disturbing similarities in the two situations. Both exhibit long-simmering antagonisms and violence that breaks out for the sole reason of harming someone of the other race. In the years before the busing crisis in Boston, there were many incidents of black or white people being attacked with no provocation, simply because they found themselves in the wrong neighborhood. The audacity of venturing into a different neighborhood was seen as provocation enough. Is this an alarming condemnation of our progress on race relations that the same type of animosity exists more than 30 years later? Of course it is. And yet I think it’s wrong to condemn the efforts being made, flawed or incomplete as they may be. If the answers were easy, we would have solved the problem long ago.

Q.    How long have you been writing?

A.    On and off for about 12 years.

Q.    How many books have you written?

A.    I’ve written three. The third one will be published sometime this year. It’s about a woman who, as a teenager in 1969 was part of an anti-Vietnam war protest group and was involved in committing a crime. She has been living under a false identity for over thirty years, and as her life begins to unravel, she fights to hide her past from her unsuspecting family.

Q.    How long did it take you write ON THE BUS?

A.    I spent about a year researching, including interviewing several dozen people who lived through Boston’s busing crisis firsthand. Then about another year writing.

Q.    What message would you like readers to receive from reading ON THE BUS?

A.    I set out to present the most objective, unbiased account of this historical event as possible. Often, when I go to speak at gatherings of people who have read the book, I get these oddly curious looks as I enter the room. People will then tell me they were wondering whether I was black or white, because they couldn’t tell from the book. I always find this very satisfying because it tells me that I succeeded in the goal of objectivity.

My hope is that people will feel they are getting a look at an extreme and disturbing situation—and at life in general—from the perspective of “the other guy”. And then come to the realization that people of all colors have hopes and dreams that are both precious and fragile. All parents want the best for their children and want desperately to protect them from harm. And all people are prone to making bad choices and decisions at times. We are all human. For something so trite and so obvious, that is too often forgotten.