Suppose you’re a big fan of books and you find yourself checking the young adult section of the New York Times bestseller lists, or scrolling endlessly through r/books on Reddit. In that case, you may have encountered “The Davenports,” a historical fiction novel by Krystal Marquis. This book follows the story of the daughters of the Davenport family, one of the only affluent black families in 1910, made wealthy through the success of the Davenport Carriage Company. The book has garnered considerable acclaim across the country and continues to stay on top of the charts, and on March 10, I was able to interview the author behind such a successful novel.
While Marquis will undoubtedly join the pantheon of successful University of Connecticut alumni as the series continues to grow, she didn’t start off with the intention of becoming an author or even coming to UConn. Krystal actually studied biology originally at Boston College and eventually came to UConn since her siblings were alumni and she needed a place to continue her studies.
After graduating, she then went on to work as an environmental health and safety manager. When inquiring about what got her started in the world of writing, she reflected on her love for reading and how that greatly influenced her.
“I’ve always had a love for reading growing up so I would write these stories with me and my brother that we would share with each other and among our family. They were fun little stories but one day we decided to compete in the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) challenge and the draft for the Davenports came to be.”
The plot of “The Davenports” is based primarily on an article Marquis had read about a carriage-turned-automobile company founded by C.R. Patterson. It was the first and only Black-owned and operated automobile company for the entirety of the country’s history. Being a car person herself, she delved deeper into the history of the family and decided to make it the basis of her fledgling story.
When asked about the thought process and writing that goes on behind the scenes, Marquis was happy to share some insight about how she crafts her stories. She tries to write a few pages every day, creating a rhythm that allows her to keep going and never become stagnant. She admits that drafting is the hardest part of the process, but once she gets the words down and enters the editing process it’s far easier for her.
However, besides her writing career, Marquis still maintains her full-time working environmental health and safety manager. Managing a burgeoning writing career with a full-time job sounds like it can be difficult and stressful, but for her, the support Marquis receives makes it possible for her to have the best of both worlds.
“I work the later shift, so I go to my main job later on in the day. I have a really wonderful team that’s understanding and able to cover for me and make accommodations for the days when I may have to travel or I have a deadline approaching. The team at Penguin Books is also great and does a lot to keep important events on my radar. I’m just glad that I’m able to be surrounded by people of all ages who love to read.”
This same feeling of gratitude extends to her feelings on the success of the novel skyrocketing over the last couple of months. Like many who have found major success for Marquis, the experience is “surreal and humbling” and she extends her gratitude to everyone who supported her. She originally set out to make a book that she would want to read, but it eventually ended up being a book that she wished she had growing up.
“I just found it interesting that black people were building cars in the early 1900s, and late 1800s and yet a lot of us never knew that. With this book, I wanted to focus on what it would be like to be a black woman during an era where wealth was far less common within our communities and create that representation.”
As Marquis’ work continued to gather support and traction all over the country, I couldn’t help but wonder what her dream car would look like if it ever reached stratospheric heights. And similar to most car enthusiasts, she gave me one of the most relatable answers possible: a 1967 Mustang convertible.
“I grew up working on Mustangs with my dad. I remember buying a 2005 or 2006 mustang of the newer generation and working on it with my dad to get it up and running and enjoying that feeling. I also owned and 90s one too, but I think if I had an unlimited budget I’d have to go with a 1967 Mustang convertible since all the other ones were convertible too.”
If you’re interested in reading more about Marquis or “The Davenports,” you can pick up a copy at your local bookstore, or read it online through your digital book distributor of your choice.