Like most students, my own school playground experience was at times fraught. Unusually, I grew up in an integrated neighborhood in 1960s and 1970s Washington DC, and went to a school where the majority of the students were black. So I knew what it was like to walk onto a playground where my skin color was different from many of the others, and the tension that could cause.
I chose to set New Boy in 1974, when I – and my characters – was 11 years old and in my last year of elementary school. At that age kids are on the verge of adolescence – that strange period when they begin imitating adult behavior without actually being adults. The main characters simply go through the motions of romance (which is how I’ve always felt about Othello and Desdemona anyway), but the real drama is in how someone different from everyone else is treated.
Unfortunately racism has always been prevalent in the US. From slavery onwards, African-Americans have long been discriminated against. The Civil Rights Movement sought racial equality in the 1950s. The more militant Black Power Movement grew in the late 1960s and into the 1970s and, interwoven with the slowly declining Vietnam
War and the Watergate scandal, made the year of 1974 less stable than its culture full of bellbottoms and big hair might indicate.