Brendan Slocumb's latest novel, “Symphony of Secrets,” centers the stories of Black characters who are deeply immersed in the world of classical music.

The story takes place in two time periods. Dr. Bern Hendrix, an African American man, who uncovers that a famous opera may have been stolen from a young Black, autistic woman named Josephine Reed. "Symphony of Secrets" readers learn what happened then and now as they explore the themes of privilege and appropriation.

Author Brendan Slocumb smiles as he sits on a couch with his arms resting on his knees.
Brendan Slocumb is a celebrated author and educator
David Bickley Penguin Random House

Through his writing, Slocumb wanted to highlight issues that are still happening today.

Slocumb joined Callie Crossley on Under the Radar for a conversation about "Symphony of Secrets," July's selection for Bookmarked: The Under the Radar Book Club.

"It's kind of crazy that, you know, this story takes place basically 100+ years ago and these same themes still are relevant," Slocumb said. "You know, what was it, a month or so ago, the case with — I think it was Ed Sheeran and the family of Marvin Gaye. Was it appropriation? Did he steal the tune from a Marvin Gaye song? ... It's a good thing I wasn't on that jury, because it sounded an awful, awful lot like his song."

He said it doesn't matter where someone comes from or what they look like, they deserve credit for their work.

"It's a shame that people either don't realize that they have a right to their own work and they should fight for it," he said.

For Slocumb, the book is also deeply personal. The character of Eboni, a tech-savvy assistant to Dr. Hendrix, represents experiences Slocumb has lived through himself.

“I'd like to think that Eboni is a representation of what people like me, basically what people like me have to have had to endure for a very, very, very long time," he said. "You know, it's not just me. I would never be have so much hubris as to think that she's representing me directly. But I've heard so many different stories from people that say, 'You know, that exact same thing happened to me.'”