An Oprah’s Book Club Selection
The 2020 National Book Award–nominated poet makes her fiction debut with this magisterial epic—an intimate yet sweeping novel with all the luminescence and force of Homegoing; Sing, Unburied, Sing; and The Water Dancer—that chronicles the journey of one American family, from the centuries of the colonial slave trade through the Civil War to our own tumultuous era.
The great scholar, W. E. B. Du Bois, once wrote about the Problem of race in America, and what he called “Double Consciousness,” a sensitivity that every African American possesses in order to survive. Since childhood, Ailey Pearl Garfield has understood Du Bois’s words all too well. Bearing the names of two formidable Black Americans—the revered choreographer Alvin Ailey and her great grandmother Pearl, the descendant of enslaved Georgians and tenant farmers—Ailey carries Du Bois’s Problem on her shoulders.
Ailey is reared in the north in the City but spends summers in the small Georgia town of Chicasetta, where her mother’s family has lived since their ancestors arrived from Africa in bondage. From an early age, Ailey fights a battle for belonging that’s made all the more difficult by a hovering trauma, as well as the whispers of women—her mother, Belle, her sister, Lydia, and a maternal line reaching back two centuries—that urge Ailey to succeed in their stead.
To come to terms with her own identity, Ailey embarks on a journey through her family’s past, uncovering the shocking tales of generations of ancestors—Indigenous, Black, and white—in the deep South. In doing so Ailey must learn to embrace her full heritage, a legacy of oppression and resistance, bondage and independence, cruelty and resilience that is the story—and the song—of America itself.
Honorée Fanonne Jeffers grew up in Durham, North Carolina and Atlanta, Georgia. Her work examines culture, religion, race, and family. Her first book, The Gospel of Barbecue, won the Stan and Tom Wick poetry prize and was a Paterson Poetry prize finalist.
Jeffers’s poetry has appeared in the American Poetry Review, Callaloo, the Iowa Review, Ploughshares, and Prairie Schooner. Her work has been anthologized in numerous volumes, including Roll Call: A Generational Anthology of Social and Political Black Literature and Art and These Hands I Know: Writing About the African American Family. Jeffers has also published fiction in the Indiana Review, the Kenyon Review, the New England Review, and Story Quarterly.
The recipient of honors from the Rona Jaffe Foundation, the MacDowell Colony, and the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund for Women, Jeffers teaches creative writing at the University of Oklahoma where she is an associate professor of English.