Fred Johnson of History Faculty
Authors Novel "Bittersweet"
Posted February 14, 2002
HOLLAND -- Dr. Fred L. Johnson III, assistant
professor of history at Hope College, is author of the novel
"Bittersweet," published recently by One World/Ballatine
Books of New York City.
The book tells of the three grown Matthews
brothers as they navigate the different lives they've built
and the challenges they face in their relationships.
Clifford, on the fast track to career success, loses his
wife and two sons to divorce. Victor, streetwise and
survivor of a painful divorce himself, shuns the system and
close relationships. Nathan, a minister, has a loving
marriage but is drawn to a member of his congregation that
he is counseling.
"Essence" has called "Bittersweet" "a book to curl
up with on a winter evening. It's an appealing tale of
sibling rivalry and revelry from a man's perspective."
Noting Johnson's goal of writing "a really good story," "The
Detroit Free Press" said, "Congratulations... you have done
that exceedingly well."
"I wanted to write a story that anybody could pick
up and relate to the characters--when the person puts the
book down, they can go, 'Yeah, I know what you're saying, I
hear where you're coming from,'" Johnson said. "We all know
of a family member who may be hurting, or may be going
through something--or we may be ourselves."
In telling a tale with universal qualities,
Johnson is also seeking to dispel negative stereotypes. The
Matthews brothers are African American, and through them
Johnson hopes to show black men committed to making positive
choices for themselves and the others in their lives.
"Historical and popular portrayals of black men as
being caring, nurturing, responsible husbands and fathers
are woefully imbalanced by images painting them as
emotionally dysfunctional, irresponsible, baby-making
studs," he said. "The characters demonstrate that black
relationships are not just exercises of prolonged misery,
but have within them all the necessary elements for
achieving long-lasting experiences of love, support, comfort
and protection that should inspire hope."
Himself a divorced father of two, Johnson drew on
his personal experiences in writing "Bittersweet" although
the story isn't autobiographical. He also drew on his
experience as a scholar. Victor's negative feelings about
the legal system, for example, reflect "something we know
historically has been a problem between the African American
community and that particular institution," he said.
Johnson joined the Hope faculty in the fall of
2000. His primary field is 19th century U.S. history,
specifically the Confederacy during the Civil War. Other
areas of study include the U.S. in the 20th century, the
U.S. military and Africa.
"Bittersweet," is his first novel, but he has been
writing fiction for several years. He is currently at work
on another novel, which focuses on a historian who is adrift
in his personal and spiritual life.
Johnson is also revising his doctoral dissertation
for publication, examining the history of U.S. foreign
policy in East Africa. He is interested in writing a
biography of Henry O. Flipper, who was born a slave and in
1877 became the first black graduate of the United States
Military Academy at West Point.
He received his bachelor's degree from Bowie State
College in Maryland, and his master's and doctorate from
Kent State University in Ohio. His past career experiences
include serving as a corporate trainer and as an officer in
the U.S. Marine Corps.
Johnson's community involvement includes serving
on the board of the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance.
During the Ottawa Area Summit on Racism on Tuesday, Feb. 12,
he participated in a workshop as a member of the Ohio-based
Christian drama group "Because He Cares, Inc.," which he had
joined while in graduate school. He wrote the play the
group presented, "Same Game, Different Day."