Professor Lea-Rachel Kosnik shares experience with interracial adoption in project with Before Ferguson Beyond Ferguson

by | Jun 15, 2022

Kosnik is currently serializing a novel, “Seeking Forgiveness,” which is inspired by her own experience as the white mother of an adopted Black son.

Professor of Economics Lea-Rachel Kosnik is serializing a novel inspired by her experience with interracial adoption. (Photo courtesy of Lea-Rachel Kosnik)

Although she deals with numbers on a daily basis, Lea-Rachel Kosnik, a professor of economics at University of Missouri–St. Louis, considers words to be her first love.

A creative writing major up until her junior year at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Kosnik published a few short stories at the encouragement of her mentor at the time. Although she ultimately considered economics to be a more practical path forward, she never was quite able to shake her love of writing – especially when it came to recording her own life and experiences.

“I realized early on that my best writing was very personal,” said Kosnik, who joined the Department of Economics at UMSL in 2004. “I tried a few completely random fiction pieces, but they were clearly not as good as my personal writing. I was also discovering that I like math very much and was good at it, so I decided to be an econ major to make sure I could get a job. But the truth is, writing stories that have a little bit of a personal bent is my first love.”

Kosnik’s most recent project falls directly in line with that philosophy. In partnership with Before Ferguson Beyond Ferguson, a nonprofit organization that aims to raise awareness of racial equity issues through the medium of storytelling, Kosnik is currently serializing a novel. “Seeking Forgiveness” is inspired by her own experience as the white mother of an adopted Black son.

Kosnik was first introduced to BFBF when she attended a talk given by the organization; immediately intrigued by the racial equity project, she reached out about a potential collaboration. Many of those involved with the project come from journalism backgrounds, including several current and former writers for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, while Kosnik has focused her own work primarily on memoir-style writing. But she believes both forms can serve as tools for advancing racial equity.

“I feel like literature and books and storytelling are ways of thinking about issues that can get to people in a way that sometimes hard facts or statistics or academic studies can’t,” she said. “I mean, I am an academic. I’m an econometrician, so I like statistics. But even in academic publications, you’ll get rejected from journals if your narrative doesn’t make sense. So it really is important to come up with the point of the story you’re telling, along with your data. Storytelling is a way to advance the conversation in society, and especially sometimes to groups or people or in directions that you can’t in a different way.”

In addition to sharing stories “of people of color in the St. Louis region as they are challenged by systemic racism” on its own platform, BFBF also works with local media partners, including The St. Louis American, St. Louis Magazine, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, St. Louis Public Radio and KSDK (Channel 5), to disseminate these stories to a wider audience. Notable storytelling efforts from BFBF include the 63106 Project, which explores the impact of the pandemic on families living in the 63106 zip code of St. Louis – identified as some of the city’s most impoverished neighborhoods – through regular reporting.

So far, BFBF has released five chapters of “Seeking Forgiveness,” which got its start when Kosnik began jotting down notes and anecdotes while raising her son, Vincent.

“My husband and I adopted an African American son, and while I would like to think we were sort of aware, I would say – like all white people – we were never as aware as we possibly could have been about racial issues, and we’re probably still not,” she said. “Things would still happen that would be surprising or interesting, and sometimes I would tell those stories to friends or family members and they’d always be fascinated. And I’ve always liked writing; for me, writing has been sort of like therapy. And so I would write out a lot of these stories as they happened as my son grew up.”

Although “Seeking Forgiveness” is heavily inspired by her own experience adopting and raising Vincent, Kosnik stresses that it’s a novel inspired by that experience – not a memoir. Names and identifying details are changed, and many of the stories within are fictionalized. “I didn’t want to give away stuff that’s my son’s story,” she says. “His story, I really do feel, is his – not mine.”

By serializing the novel – a new chapter is released each week on the BFBF website – Kosnik said each chapter is able to stand on its own, exploring different dynamics throughout. While “Seeking Forgiveness” naturally deals heavily with themes of racial equity, Kosnik said it is also a story about adoption and, more broadly, motherhood.

“Besides the interracial component, it really appeals to or strikes a chord, I think, with people who have adopted,” she said. “There are chapters where my son asks, ‘Was I meant to be with you?’ or says ‘You’re not my mother.’ And how do you sort of explain some of that?”

Recently, Kosnik has written about the “Seeking Forgiveness” project in the Riverfront Times, The St. Louis American and St. Louis Jewish Light, and she said the response to the project has been overwhelming. She’s received several emails and handwritten letters from families who have gone through a similar experience, including one woman who even sent along a photo from when her family adopted their child nearly 50 years ago.

“She was just like, ‘Everything you wrote rang true,’ and it touched me so deeply,” Kosnik said. “All the letters I’ve gotten bring tears to my eyes, because every single one is like, ‘Oh my god, that’s exactly what it’s like.’”

In addition to reaching those families, Kosnik hopes her novel can help highlight the experience of interracial adoption for a wider audience.

“I don’t know if this is the teacher in me, but I would love for people who read it to just become more aware and sensitive to mixed families and some of the things they go through,” she said. “I don’t think it’s all maliciousness, but there are microaggressions against interracial mixed families from everybody – men, women, Black, white – and it would be nice if people were more aware of that.”

Once all the chapters have been released through BFBF, Kosnik plans to make the novel available for purchase through Amazon and Barnes & Noble this fall.

Heather Riske

Heather Riske