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Cleveland author Echo Brown shares first-generation Ivy League experiences in 'The Chosen One'

Echo Brown, author of "The Chosen One," published by Little, Brown and Company [Alexis Keenan]
Echo Brown, author of "The Chosen One"

Cleveland author Echo Brown opens “The Chosen One” with the line: “Someone is watching me.”

“One day I was sitting on the couch and that sentence came,” Brown said. “And I was like, ‘What's that mean?’”

The line connects to Brown’s whole second novel based on her own experiences as a first-generation Black college student who rose out of poverty in Cleveland to attend an Ivy League school. In this autobiographical tale fused with magical realism, the title character, also Echo Brown, details what it feels like to be constantly watched by her white peers while burdened with the pressures to succeed.

“I hope, ultimately, that the book provides a deeper insight into how structural racism affects you internally,” Brown said. “Because I think we talk a lot about the systems that are in place, the policies that have been in place historically. But I don't think we look a lot at the internal repercussions.”

In the book written for young adults, Echo contends with racism, depression and past traumas while navigating new relationships, some positive and others not. Her ability to foster supportive and meaningful relationships makes all the difference in her freshman year journey.

“If you go to a place like Dartmouth and you remain isolated - which is a big part of my story there, I was very isolated in actuality - then you can kind of put yourself into this bubble where you're just alone with your own thoughts,” Brown said. “The importance of connecting with other people is it pulls you out of that mindset and it gives you a different kind of strength.”

“The Chosen One” follows Brown’s first novel, “Black Girl Unlimited,” about rising out of poverty as a teenager. Both were written for young adults at her editor’s prompting, and Brown said it has been an honor to write for young people.

“You get to impact their self-esteem. You get to build these kinds of lessons into their developing subconscious,” she said.

While writing “The Chosen One” Brown was hospitalized with major health problems.

“I was in a real hurry when I wrote this book because I was dying,” she said. “I was in the hospital in Paris and my kidneys had just failed.”

She urgently worked to finish the novel in order to share her college life lessons with future generations. Brown has since moved back to Cleveland and needs a kidney donor and transplant.

She’s currently working on another novel, children’s books and a TV pilot.

“These books are really part of my soul,” she said. “They're the actual spiritual work and the actual spiritual growth that I've gone through in my life.”

Carrie Wise is the deputy editor of arts and culture at Ideastream Public Media.