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Stacey Abrams on writing herself into the story – and history

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“Rising again, Avery carefully folded the pages in her hand, and crossed to the door. This time, when her hand closed on the brass handle, the rage was steady and cool. … She’d been a lot of things in her life, some legal, some questionable…”

If you don’t know the name Selena Montgomery, here’s a hint: It’s the pen name of a bestselling author who has written eight romance novels, and now, her first thriller.

And this book, “While Justice Sleeps,” bears her real name: Stacey Abrams.

“I don’t remember not writing,” said Abrams. “I think as soon as I learned to read and write, I was hard at it.

Doubleday

“I think people will be surprised. If they don’t know that I’ve written fiction before, they will be surprised,” she said.

And yet, it really shouldn’t surprise anyone that this 47-year old Yale-educated tax lawyer, longtime Georgia politician and voting rights activist could dream up a complicated plot that involves gene therapy, a corrupt American President and a female Supreme Court law clerk.

“48 Hours” correspondent Erin Moriarty asked, ” How do you have time for not only just writing these books but the research that’s involved?”

“I’m the daughter of a research librarian,” Abrams replied. “I grew up not only writing, but learning how to research, learning how to dive in and think strategically about how to learn new things.”

“Your main character is always a woman of color who’s smart and gutsy and cool under pressure – in short, Stacey Abrams?”

“Well, I try to emulate my characters, and I try to have my characters reflect who I am,” she said.

Abrams grew up in Mississippi and then Georgia. Her parents, who both became Methodist ministers later in life, encouraged their six children to have high aspirations – big dreams that sometimes ran into hard reality. In 1991, Abrams – as valedictorian of her high school class – was invited to meet the Governor of Georgia.

“My parents and I arrived on the MARTA bus, because we didn’t have a car,” she recalled. “We go up the driveway of the Governor’s Mansion. We get to the guard gate, and the guard stops us and tells us we don’t belong there, that it’s a private event. My dad says, ‘No, this is my daughter, Stacey. We have an invitation.’ But the guard doesn’t ask for my invitation that my mom has. And I remember watching him watch the bus pull off.”

“Weren’t you mortified?” asked Moriarty.

“Oh, absolutely. And if my mother had not had my arm in a death grip, I would have been back on that bus. I think two things happened that day. One, they were not going to let me be denied this honor that I’d achieved. But two, I think they wanted me to see my responsibility is to not let someone else tell me who I am and where I belong.”

She has never forgotten that lesson.

In 2006, Abrams won a seat as a Democrat in the Georgia Assembly, and became the first female minority leader of her party. In 2018, she hoped to go back to the Governor’s Mansion by running for Governor. Her opponent was Brian Kemp, at the time, the Georgia Secretary of State who ran the election. He won the Governor’s race by less than two percentage points.

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, during his time as Secretary of State, Kemp purged 1.5 million voters from election rolls. Kemp says he was eliminating ineligible voters to protect the integrity of the election. Abrams claims, by doing that, Kemp stole the election.

In her speech after Election Night, Abrams said, “I acknowledge that former Secretary of State Brian Kemp will be certified as the victor in the 2018 Gubernatorial election. But to watch an elected official who claims to represent the people in this state badly pin his hopes for election on the suppression of the people’s democratic right to vote has been truly appalling.”

Moriarty asked, “You know that some people say, ‘Then what is the difference between Stacey Abrams not conceding an election in 2018, and President Trump not conceding an election two years later?”

“Words matter,” Abrams replied. “What I have fought for, and what I have said consistently, what even they will admit — those who are unhappy with me – is that I never once filed a challenge to make myself Governor of Georgia. I have always ever fought to make certain that every vote got counted and every person got included.”

“Were you angry after the election?”

“Oh yes. I did the stages of grief. I spent a lot of time in anger. That was my favorite stage! I came back several times, built a small condo!”

Stacey Abrams with correspondent Erin Moriarty.

CBS News

And then, you might say, Abrams got even. She started Fair Fight, a voter registration group that is widely credited with helping President Joe Biden win the state of Georgia in the 2020 election, and in a runoff election held on January 5, put two new Democrats in the U.S. Senate. It was no coincidence, said Abrams, that one day later, protestors stormed the U.S. Capitol, some carrying the Confederate flag.

“That flag has always been a declaration of domestic terrorism against communities they thought were not worthy of being able to call themselves citizens,” Abrams said. “And so, yes, there is absolutely a through line from what we accomplished in Georgia to what happened on January 6th.”

The wins were also the impetus for new election laws — pushed by Republicans in state legislatures—which Abrams says are really designed to deny poor and older voters of color a voice in elections.

Abrams told Moriarty, “You earlier said people take voting for granted. When you’ve never had to think about the hardship of voting, then yes, these conversations on voter suppression seem absurd to you.

When you have never spent more than seven minutes in line, it is nearly impossible to imagine that there are poor Black people who stand in line for eight hours, miss an entire day’s wages, risk losing their jobs simply to cast a ballot in an election that may or may not have any benefit in their lives.”

Ensuring that right to vote may someday help Abrams achieve her greatest dream: running for President.

“DO I hold it as an ambition? Absolutely,” she said. “And even more importantly, when someone asks me if that’s my ambition, I have a responsibility to say yes, for every young woman, every person of color, every young person of color, who sees me and decides what they’re capable of based on what I think I am capable of. Again, it’s about you cannot have those things you refuse to dream of.”

With Georgia, Florida and most recently Texas passing laws that limit voting, Abrams is expanding Fair Fight’s efforts around the country. She has a virtual book tour planned for her new novel, and of course more books to write. Which leaves little time for anything else…

Moriarty asked, “How do you have any time for a personal life?”

“Well, let’s be clear. So, Fair Fight, there’s also the Southern Economic Advancement Project, there’s Fair Count, there’s writing…”

“Alright, you’re making my point for me!”

“Here’s my point: I would love to give priority to my personal life,” Abrams said. “The last year has made that a little less possible. I was dating someone before the pandemic hit. It ended before the pandemic did.”

“Because you were so busy? Because you didn’t have enough time?”

“That was the complaint.”

“And also, you are a very public person.”

“He also found that a bit distracting, yes. That said, hopefully there is another guy out there for whom those are not disqualifiers.”

“Is that one of your goals?”

“Yes,” Abrams replied. “It’s nice to like somebody and to have somebody like you. I wrote a lot of books about it!”

      
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Story produced by Ed Forgotson and Robin Sanders. Editor: David Bhagat. 

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