I like to say that I was born in the shadow of Monticello. In truth, the shadow of that little mountain would have fallen far short of the University of Virginia hospital in Charlottesville on the snowy--my father says blizzardy--morning that I was born. It was 1955, just a few months after Brown v. Board, and so, in regard to the potentialities of my life, the umbra of whatever shadow Jefferson and his cronies might have cast was beginning to lighten. So it was with some optimism that my parents, a refrigeration mechanic and a textile worker, looked upon their first-born of six.
Perhaps because Jim Crow had so badly deprived them (Read Huston Diehl’s Dream Not of Other Worlds), my parents took educating their brood with seriousness and intent. Study was allowed to be broad, but the expectation was always for hard work and success. Even so, the opportunities were limited--restricted, actually--as the segregated school system clung on in rural Virginia. The break came in 1967, when, as a preface to the forced racial integration of the schools, my parents enrolled my sister and me in the Freedom of Choice plan that brought about limited integration of the white schools. It was they, of course, not I, who freely chose! For some years, I was but one of a few black children, often the only boy, in whatever I endeavored, and so I developed a detached sensibility that I think has aided me in my writing. I am observant, distant, often passive--but always negotiating for the positive.
Socially, in 1973, the College of William and Mary was nearly as alienating as the Freedom of Choice. I began my studies as an anthropologist, but was soon possessed by the spirit of playwriting. I earned a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre and Speech. My father’s one criticism: “Four years and this!” Answering his call for a more practical course of study, I went to George Mason University for fiction writing, earning an MFA in 1984. Soon after, I took a series of university teaching jobs in Georgia, where I now teach creative writing.
Publishing began in graduate school and though it always seems a struggle, I’ve published both poetry and fiction in literary journals, a collection of stories TROUBLE NO MORE and a novel BOMBINGHAM. A reviewer for The Washington Post wrote of BOMBINGHAM, "In its insistence that 'the world is a tumultuous place and every soul in it suffers,' this powerful, resonant novel offers no consolations. Grooms offers consolation, however, in allowing us to be present at the emergence of a brave and promising talent, fully equipped to take on the writer's task of confronting chaos and wrestling it into form. A second novel, THE VAIN CONVERSATION, was launched in March 2018. Author Ron Rash says of the novel, that it “vividly evokes the horrors of American racism, but Anthony Grooms never denies the humanity of his characters, whether black or white, young or old. His novel achieves what only the best literature can give us: it refuses too-easy consolations or too-easy condemnations. When we finish the last page, the book is not finished with us. It will haunt us.” The novel received a coveted starred review from Kirkus Reviews.
Though my subject matter varies, my work tends to focus on characters struggling with the uncertainty of the Civil Rights Movement. Twice I’ve received the Lillian Smith Prize for Fiction, and have been a Finalist for the Legacy Award from Hurston-Wright Foundation. Granted a Fulbright Scholarship in 2006, I taught in Stockholm, Sweden and researched for my novel, BURN THE HOUSE, now being circulated by my agent, Marly Rusoff. Also, JOSIE OF BIRMINGHAM, a novel for young readers that is set during the Birmingham Civil Rights Movement is with my agent. Recently, I was in residency at Yaddo, an artists' retreat, where I drafted a portion of a new novel about moon travel, my first science fiction!
- Anthony Grooms