A native of Chicago’s South Side, Nancy Johnson worked for more than a decade as an Emmy-nominated, award-winning television journalist at CBS and ABC affiliates in markets nationwide. A graduate of Northwestern University and The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, she lives in downtown Chicago and manages brand communications for a large nonprofit. The Kindest Lie is her first novel.
Nancy tells us, “I did a fun interview with Entertainment Weekly talking about my inspiration for the novel and how it fits into our current cultural moment. Also, I have a personal essay appearing in Real Simple magazine that will spark conversation and inspire us to think about our relationships.”
“The Kindest Lie is a deep dive into how we define family, what it means to be a mother, what secrets we owe to those we love, and what it means to grow up Black. This beautifully crafted debut will keep you asking these questions and more.” —Jodi Picoult
We’re delighted for you and the well-deserved recognition. Thank you for answering a few questions for us today!
Q1: What’s the premise of your new book?
The Kindest Lie is the story of Ruth Tuttle, a successful, Ivy League-educated Black engineer who returns to her dying Indiana factory hometown to search for the son she walked away from more than a decade ago. There, she meets and forms an unlikely connection with a poor, 11-year-old white boy nicknamed Midnight. The forces of race, class, and secrets put them on a collision course that could upend both of their lives.
Q2: What would you like people to know about the story itself?
While the issues of racism and classism are definitely evident in the novel, the story is really about family and love and sacrifice. You’ll ask yourself questions: How tethered are you to your past? Does your past define who you are today? How far would you go to protect your child’s future? What lies would you tell trying to do what’s best for the people you love?
Q3: What do your characters have to overcome in this story? What challenge do you set before them?
After Ruth gave birth to her son in her childhood bed, she left Ganton, Indiana and her child behind, never looking back. Now her unsuspecting husband is ready to start a family and she must reckon with her past before she can move forward.
Also, the novel is set in late 2008 when America is ravaged by an economic recession. You’ll meet a Black family and a white family in middle America, struggling, yet doing their best to survive and achieve the American dream.
Q4: What unique challenges did this book pose for you, if any?
The primary challenge was to write a book that addressed race and class without being heavy-handed and didactic. Instead, I focused on the characters, spending so much time with them that they became real to me. I may not have agreed with their choices, but I understood them. They became more than their mistakes, more than their circumstances. My goal was to make them complex, layered, and fully human on the page.
Q5: What has been the most rewarding aspect of having written this book?
The best part, hands down, has been connecting with readers. One woman wrote to me and said the character of Mama (Ruth’s grandmother) in my book reminded her of her own grandmother who is French and Belgian. Just like Mama, her grandmother baked cold-water cornbread and kept a can of bacon drippings on the back of the stove. Those are small points of connection, but they matter. Other readers have identified with Ruth’s dual identity and struggle to define herself apart from her family’s expectations. All of this speaks to how universal stories are and that’s why they’re incredibly powerful.