By Abbey Remkus
The year was 1967, and love was blooming in The Garden City. It was the stuff of novels, as the saying goes — a young man and woman met, fell in love and lived happily ever after.
Camille Wright might not have realized she was starting her own love story back then with her now-husband of 50 years, George Wright. Today, the couple are celebrating another milestone. In April, Camille Wright published her first novel, Anne Aletha.
Leaving a Legacy
Camille Wright, an Atlanta native, was a member of the first dental hygiene class offered at the Medical College of Georgia in 1967. She made the move to Augusta in her junior year, and two years later, she would be among the first to graduate from the program. George Wright, an Augusta native and graduate of the Academy of Richmond County, was a sophomore medical student at the time. In 1970, the two were married and bought their first home on the 1900 block of McDowell Street.
“Augusta will always be so special to us because we were newly married there and had this sweet little bungalow,” Camille Wright recalled. “Every time we come to Augusta, which is not that often, we go by it,” she said of the McDowell Street house. “George hung wallpaper in the kitchen and bathroom, and from the looks of the house today, the wallpaper is probably still on the walls 50 years later.”
When asked about her favorite thing in Augusta, it wasn’t easy for her to name just one.
“It’s got so much,” she said. “I love the Hill and The Partridge Inn and all of the beautiful homes.”
The couple said they do not get back to Augusta as often as they would like, but for the Wrights it’s a special place. So special, in fact, that they recently established an endowment to the medical college that will provide scholarships for students with financial needs.
“It just seems fitting for us, because we will come full circle with our legacy, that our estate will go to MCG. The legacy will begin where we began,” she said.
The couple now resides in Atlanta, where George Wright retired as professor emeritus of orthopedic surgery at Emory University.
The Journey to Anne Aletha
Anne Aletha is a Southern historical fiction novel described as “the story of a suffragist’s fight against racism and the klan during World War I.”
“The book takes place in 1918 amid World War I, the Spanish influenza and a reemerging Ku Klux Klan. Anne Aletha, a young, unconventional schoolteacher, inherits her uncle’s cash-strapped farm in Ray’s Mill, Ga. Her plans to open a school for all children and her courage to challenge the racial injustices she witnesses plunge herself and those she loves into the violence of the klan. Anne Aletha invites readers to reflect on the legacy of civil rights and women’s suffrage — and the road that still remains to be traveled.”
The story begins in April 1918 and extends through the armistice in November. It was a time with “a lot going on.”
“As I was researching it, so many events came into play. It was such a compelling year for fiction — World War I was raging, the KKK was flourishing, women’s suffrage struggling and the Spanish influenza spreading,” Wright said.
The plots and settings used throughout Anne Aletha were dreamed up using an embellished conglomeration of research and stories Wright gleaned from neighbors and family over the years. And two strangers played a role in the creation of the book’s love story.
Wright and her mother found an antique trunk full of late-19th-century love letters between two people named Alex and Nellie. While Wright never met Alex and Nellie, she said their letters were ultimately what inspired her to begin to bring Anne Aletha to life.
From there she began her research, and she attended philosophy and writing classes over the years. But most importantly, she began listening to stories from people who had lived back then. Wright’s elderly neighbor shared letters and stories from his time fighting in the trenches of France in World War I.
And her own great-aunt, Gussie, shared stories about the life of Wright’s grandmother, who grew up in Odum, Ga, on a homeplace on the Altamaha River, as one of 16 children.
“I was enthralled … she told me about sunrise weddings beneath the old walnut tree behind the homeplace and about foot washing in the primitive Baptist church. They also cut timber off the land and rafted it down the Altamaha River. So all of these things got incorporated into Anne Aletha,” Camille Wright said.
In addition, many characters in the book are affectionately named for members of Wright’s family. Her grandfather and his family name, Clements, are used in the book. The names of her father and grandmother are there, and one of her grandmother’s 15 siblings was the inspiration for the novel’s namesake.
“One of those sisters was named Elitha. My mother and my aunt, I always thought they were saying ‘Anne Elitha,’ for years, but they were saying ‘Aunt.’ So that’s where the title came from,” Wright said.
She also incorporated pieces of her mother’s hometown, Ray’s Mill, Ga., which is just north of Valdosta and known today as Ray City. Just outside of this small rural town, a horrific lynching occurred, which serves as the book’s main conflict and is something the main character stands against.
In writing the book, Wright drew from her own experiences with racial segregation and growing up in the Jim Crow era in Atlanta in the 1950s and ’60s. She said the similarities of themes including racial injustice, war and illness found in Anne Aletha and the problems society faces today are not lost on her.
“Ironically, 20 years ago, when I began writing my novel, I had no idea we would be mired in a pandemic just like my main character, Anne Aletha,” Wright said.
She said she hopes that readers can take a message of hope from Anne Aletha.
“We’ve made progress, but we’ve got so far to go,” Wright said. “I like to think of Anne Aletha like John Lewis, that one person can make a difference.”
A Story Brought Full Circle
Since COVID-19 has put speaking engagements and appearances with book clubs on hold for now, Wright said she is spending her time getting back to her favorite part of being an author: the research.
And while she doesn’t foresee a sequel for Anne Aletha, Wright hopes to explore more of the suffrage theme of the 1920s in Atlanta. “I am 73 years old. I can’t take 25 more years,” she said, laughing.
“I didn’t start writing until I was middle-aged. Anne Aletha was just published by the Ardent Writer Press in April 2020, so for all of those wannabe writers out there that want to write a novel, there’s hope.”
For Wright, her own love story in Anne Aletha has come full circle, and she is now saying farewell to the beloved characters she has spent more than two decades creating.
Appears in the October 2020 issue of Augusta Magazine.