East of Troost offers masterful storytelling with a then-and-now perspective
While many guidelines and templates exist on storytelling for PR professionals, books offer solid examples. In this post, I discuss East of Troost, the first novel by Ellen Barker. She tells the story of a middle-aged widow who leaves her San Francisco home with Boris, her German Shepherd. After traumatic life events, she returns to the house where she grew up in Kansas City, Missouri. She bought the house unseen but affordable with insurance money (explained in the story). With a two-week break from her remote IT management job, she drives with Boris to mid-America.
Barker explains her rationale for writing this story when several years ago, she found her house abandoned and falling apart. “I didn’t want to actually move back to that little house, but I could write a different future for it in a novel,” she said in an interview in the Compulsive Reader.
An improved outcome for this home and neighborhood is the angle Barker took in her book. PR professionals can develop positive stories with improved outcomes based on client examples.
Let me first explain that Troost is a major north-south street in Kanas City, Missouri, that became one of the dividing lines between white and Black neighborhoods in the 1960s. It remains so with some revitalization in process.
As Barker explains, the neighborhoods east of Troost eventually offered safe, affordable home ownership for Black families. Eventually is the operative word. The first Black families faced racial discrimination for home ownership with no options west of Troost, the white bastion at that time.
This book speaks to me because I grew up east of Troost in Kansas City.
I went to the same elementary and high school as the author. My family lived in a different neighborhood east of Troost. The brick house, built in the 1930s, was less than a mile from where my dad grew up. My mom and dad didn’t move until 1993 when they were in their 70s. They couldn’t afford to buy another house west of Troost. As the only white people on the block, they eventually knew their neighbors who watched out for them and shoveled the snow off the driveway for my dad in the winter. Our neighborhood changed as described in this book – white flight and predatory real estate companies.
Ellen Barker tells us her story with clarity and a then-and-now perspective. She is a career woman who leaves the familiarity of Northern California out of necessity. She builds her story with reflections on her past and current situations to figure out where she belongs.
The author uses three different periods of time to illustrate how the house and her emotions change.
She describes the neighborhood of her childhood.
“…Walking home from my high school, it was clear that the change was happening east of Troost, and mostly east of Prospect, I noticed, but it didn’t really register with me for a long time that what I was seeing was a deliberate act, quiet policies at work keeping west of Troost White while east of Troost was allowed to ‘turn Black.’ I figure it out in college, studying sociology and political science. But I still assumed that it was the unrelated work of real estate companies and banks, not a concerted effort. Only much later did I hear the term ‘east of Troost’ and ‘the Troost Wall’ and discover that it wasn’t just a direction, it was a thing, it had a name, and it was a disgrace.”
She vividly shares her fears as she opens the door to her new home on that first day.
“…I back up a step and take a deep breath, trying not to panic, not to second guess what I have just done: bought my child home thirty-seven years after moving out to go to college and thirty-four years after my parents sold the house and fled the increasingly dangerous and unfamiliar neighborhood where they spent their entire married life…”
She evaluates, a year later, living east of Troost.
A year had passed. The main character made friends, confronted a burglar, renovated her home, and advanced in her job. And she reflects on life after hosting her first party with six of her neighbors.
“I close the door, lean against it. The sun is going down, and the door is warm and solid on my back. I smile at nothing in particular. I may not be in this for all of my life, but right now, my life is here, and right now is all I have to worry about. This is home.”
The storytelling angle
East of Troost offers a basic plot line with multiple stories to consider throughout its 321 pages (paperback). The determination of the main character, who does not have a name in this first-person narrative, is palpable. She knows what must happen to live in her old neighborhood and create an improved outcome for the house, her home.
The public relations connection
Now, the connection to public relations is simple storytelling in a book with purpose in its foundation and an example of how to say more than, “I just moved home to my old neighborhood.” Read East of Troost to learn more about this storytelling connection. The publisher, She Writes Press, presents more than 65 female authors, including Ellen Barker.
- PRSA Storyteller Series – Listen to on-demand webinars with insights from PR pros.
- The Power of PR Storytelling in 2022 – Review the tip from the PR News io Blog (Alex Nigmatulin, November 18, 2022).
- Coursera Storytelling Certificates – Select from multiple options for more resources on storytelling.