“My first book, called Heartbreak Hotel, was an autobiographical book about coming of age at a Southern college campus in 1957 on the fringes of the Civil Rights movement. There was to be a climax where I felt it would be necessary for this young woman to confront a black person in a totally new environment, to make her really see the blacks around her as people instead of what they had been to her all her life, loved servants but diminished people. I couldn’t think of a way to do that without being out of character with the Civil Rights movement because at that very early time we were not marching in the streets or firebombing. It was a very delicate ‘one heart at a time’ awakening. One night in a dream an old memory returned: I had been over to visit friends in Mississippi and while we were at the local jail, visiting the deputy sheriff, there was a jailbreak. Someone shoved me into a little room and said, ‘Don’t come out of this office.’ But through the glass pane I saw the escaped prisoner run by the door. He looked in at me and I looked at him. It seemed as if we held that look forever.
“I had more or less buried that memory. And then one night I dreamed that that’s how it would happen for my protagonist: she would see a man in the middle of a jailbreak and, by his eyes, know him totally. Know his fear and his terror and know that they were her own. The whole thing became alive and real to her then.
“I’d had that experience and I could’ve thought of it but I wasn’t using it. It took the dream to call it out. If we let them, dreams will give great order to our lives.”