On a spring afternoon in 1985 in Gary, Indiana, a fifteen-year-old girl kills an elderly woman in a violent home invasion. In a city with a history of racial tensions and white flight, the girl, Paula Cooper, is Black, and her victim, Ruth Pelke, is white and a beloved Bible teacher. The press swoops in. When Paula is sentenced to death, no one decries the impending execution of a tenth grader. But the tide begins to shift when the victim's grandson Bill forgives the girl, against the wishes of his family, and campaigns to spare her life. This tragedy in a midwestern steel town soon reverberates across the United States and around the world--reaching as far away as the Vatican--as newspapers cover the story on their front pages and millions sign petitions in support of Paula. As Paula waits on death row, her fate sparks a debate that not only animates legal circles but raises vital questions about the value of human life: What are we demanding when we call for justice? Is forgiveness an act of desperation or of profound bravery? As Bill and Paula's friendship deepens, and as Bill discovers others who have chosen to forgive after terrible violence, their story asks us to consider what radical acts of empathy we might be capable of. In Seventy Times Seven, Alex Mar weaves an unforgettable narrative of an act of violence and its aftermath. This is a story about the will to live--to survive, to grow, to change--and about what we are willing to accept as justice. Tirelessly researched and told with intimacy and precision, this book brings a haunting chapter in the history of our criminal justice system to astonishing life.
Alex Mar is the author of Witches of America, which was a New York Times Notable Book of 2015. Her work has appeared in New York Magazine, Wired, The New York Times Book Review, and The Guardian, among many other outlets, as well as The Best American Magazine Writing. She was a finalist for the National Magazine Award in Feature Writing in 2018. She is also the director of the feature-length documentary American Mystic. She lives in the Hudson Valley and New York City.
Mar will be in conversation with Tope Folarin. Folarin is a Nigerian-American writer based in Washington DC. He serves as Director of the Institute for Policy Studies and the Lannan Visiting Lecturer in Creative Writing at Georgetown University. He is the recipient of the Caine Prize for African Writing, the Whiting Award for Fiction, and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, among other awards. Tope also serves as a board member of the Avalon Theater in Washington DC, the Vice President of the Board of the Pen/Faulkner Foundation, and as a member of the President’s Council of Pathfinder. He was educated at Morehouse College and the University of Oxford, where he earned two Masters degrees as a Rhodes Scholar. His debut novel, A Particular Kind of Black Man, was published by Simon & Schuster.