Turning Fact into Fiction: Writing Fiction about the Richmond Theater Fire

Time Period
1764 to 1824
Media Type
Art & Architecture
Black History
Business & Industry
Civil War
Domestic Life
Women's History
Rachel Beanland

On May 11, 2023, Rachel Beanland gave a lecture on the historical research behind her novel about the Richmond Theater Fire, The House is On Fire. Rachel Beanland’s latest novel, The House Is On Fire, is based on the true story of the 1811 Richmond Theater fire and is already being called “a stunning achievement” by Jeannette Walls and “a propulsive, pulse-pounding read” by Kathleen Grissom. The novel begins the night of the fire and follows four characters—white and Black, free and enslaved—who experience the incendiary event from very different perspectives. Beanland based all four characters on the lives of real people who lived through the fire and its aftermath, and in this talk, she’ll share how she used primary and secondary sources—including archival material belonging to the Virginia Museum of History and Culture—to bring these characters and others to life. Rachel Beanland’s first novel, Florence Adler Swims Forever, was selected as a book club pick by Barnes & Noble, a featured debut by Amazon, an Indie Next pick by the American Booksellers Association, and one of the best books of 2020 by USA Today. It was also named a New York Times Editors’ Choice and was recognized with the 2020 National Jewish Book Award for Debut Fiction. Beanland earned her MFA in creative writing from Virginia Commonwealth University and lives in Richmond, Virginia, with her family. Her newest book is The House is On Fire.

The content and opinions expressed in these presentations are solely those of the speaker and not necessarily of the Virginia Museum of History & Culture.

Want to listen to an audio-only version of this lecture? Listen now on SoundCloud.