Synopses & Reviews
An Oprah’s Book Club Selection
A New York Times Book Everyone Will Be Talking About
“This sweeping, brilliant and beautiful narrative is at once a love song to Black girlhood, family, history, joy, pain… and so much more. In Jeffers' deft hands, the story of race and love in America becomes the great American novel.” —Jacqueline Woodson, author of Red at the Bone and Another Brooklyn
Longlisted for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize • An Indie Next Pick • A People 5 Best Books of the Summer • A Good Morning America 15 Summer Book Club Picks • An Essence Best Book of the Summer • A Time 11 Best Books of the Month • A Washington Post 10 Books of the Month • A CNN Best Book of the Month • A Ms. Most Anticipated Book of the Year • A Goodreads Most Anticipated Book of the Year • A Book Page Writer to Watch • A USA Today Hottest Summer Book • A Chicago Tribune Summer Must-Read • An Observer Best Summer Book • A Millions Most Anticipated Book • A Ms. Book of the Month • A BiblioLifestyle Most Anticipated Literary Book of the Summer • A Deep South Best Book of the Summer • Winner of an AudioFile Earphones Award
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.
"A sprawling, ambitious debut novel that is as impassioned in promoting Black women's autonomy as it is insistent on acknowledging our common humanity.... Jeffers, a celebrated poet, manages the difficult task of blending the sweeping with the intimate.... If this isn't the Great American Novel, it's a mighty attempt at achieving one." Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"A staggering and ambitious saga.... Themes of family, class, higher education, feminism, and colorism yield many rich layers. Readers will be floored." Publishers Weekly, starred review
"In this dazzling debut, generations of high yellow and brown 'skin-ded' women in one Georgia family explore the complexities of kin, the legacies of trauma, with all the sharp corners and blind alleys of real life. Wise, funny, deeply moving, I can't tell you how much I love this book. A few times a generation a book comes along that gathers you up with its force, its insights, its sound and fury, its lyrical beauty. The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois is one of those books. Not merely a good novel, but a great and important one." Stephanie Powell Watts, author of No One Is Coming to Save Us
"From our earliest roots, African and Indigenous, to our present-day realities weighed down by inequity and injustice, Jeffers writes about all of us with such tenderness and deep knowing. Hers is the gorgeous prose one expects from a gifted, accomplished poet, masterful and stunning, as she explores both the bountiful resilience of Black folks and the insidious depravity wrought by white supremacy. These Love Songs make for a frank, feminist, and unforgettable read." Deesha Philyaw, author of The Secret Lives of Church Ladies
"If you read one book this year, choose this one. I went to bed thinking of Ailey Pearl Garfield and woke up thinking of her. With the arrival of this epic novel of family, race, and ancestral legacy, one of America's finest poets has announced herself as a storyteller of the highest magnitude. Absolutely brilliant." Dolen Perkins-Valdez, author of Wench and Balm
"As one of the most prolific poets of our time, Jeffers has penned a family saga that is just as brilliant as it is necessary, just as intimate as it is expansive. An outstanding portrait of an American family and in turn, an outstanding portrait of America." Angie Thomas, author of The Hate U Give
About the Author
Honorée Fanonne Jeffers is a fiction writer, poet, and essayist. She is the author of five poetry collections, including the 2020 collection The Age of Phillis, which won the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work in Poetry and was longlisted for the National Book Award for Poetry and the PEN/Voelcker Award. She was a contributor to The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race, edited by Jesmyn Ward, and has been published in the Kenyon Review, Iowa Review, and other literary publications. Jeffers was elected into the American Antiquarian Society, whose members include fourteen U.S. presidents, and is Critic at Large for Kenyon Review. She teaches creative writing and literature at University of Oklahoma.