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The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois
Cover of The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois
The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois
An Oprah's Book Club Novel

INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

ONE OF BARACK OBAMA'S FAVORITE BOOKS OF 2021

AN OPRAH BOOK CLUB SELECTION

WINNER OF THE NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD FOR FICTION

FINALIST FOR THE PEN/HEMINGWAY AWARD FOR DEBUT NOVEL • LONGLISTED FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FOR FICTION • A FINALIST FOR THE KIRKUS PRIZE FOR FICTION • SHORTLISTED FOR THE CENTER FOR FICTION FIRST NOVEL PRIZE • LONGLISTED FOR THE ASPEN WORDS LITERARY PRIZE • A NOMINEE FOR THE NAACP IMAGE AWARD

A New York Times 10 Best Books of the Year • A Time Must-Read Book of the Year • A Washington Post 10 Best Books of the Year • A Oprah Daily Top 20 Books of the Year • A People 10 Best Books of the Year • A Boston Globe Best Book of the Year • A BookPage Best Fiction Book of the Year • A Booklist 10 Best First Novels of the Year • A Kirkus 100 Best Novels of the Year • An Atlanta Journal-Constitution 10 Best Southern Books of the Year • A Parade Pick • A Chicago Public Library Top 10 Best Books of the Year • A KCRW Top 10 Books of the Year

An Instant Washington Post, USA Today, and Indie Bestseller

"Epic.... I was just enraptured by the lineage and the story of this modern African-American family.... A combination of historical and modern story—I've never read anything quite like it. It just consumed me." —Oprah Winfrey, Oprah Book Club Pick

An Indie Next Pick • A New York Times Book Everyone Will Be Talking About • 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 Washington Post 10 Books of the Month • A CNN Best Book of the Month • A Time 11 Best Books of the Month • A Ms. Most Anticipated Book of the Year • A Goodreads Most Anticipated Book of the Year • A BookPage Writer to Watch • A USA Today Book Not to Miss • A Chicago Tribune Summer Must-Read • An Observer Best Summer Book • A Millions Most Anticipated Book • A Ms. Book of the Month • A Well-Read Black Girl Book Club Pick • 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 NAACP Image Award-winning poet makes her fiction debut with this National Book Award-longlisted, 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...

INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

ONE OF BARACK OBAMA'S FAVORITE BOOKS OF 2021

AN OPRAH BOOK CLUB SELECTION

WINNER OF THE NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD FOR FICTION

FINALIST FOR THE PEN/HEMINGWAY AWARD FOR DEBUT NOVEL • LONGLISTED FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FOR FICTION • A FINALIST FOR THE KIRKUS PRIZE FOR FICTION • SHORTLISTED FOR THE CENTER FOR FICTION FIRST NOVEL PRIZE • LONGLISTED FOR THE ASPEN WORDS LITERARY PRIZE • A NOMINEE FOR THE NAACP IMAGE AWARD

A New York Times 10 Best Books of the Year • A Time Must-Read Book of the Year • A Washington Post 10 Best Books of the Year • A Oprah Daily Top 20 Books of the Year • A People 10 Best Books of the Year • A Boston Globe Best Book of the Year • A BookPage Best Fiction Book of the Year • A Booklist 10 Best First Novels of the Year • A Kirkus 100 Best Novels of the Year • An Atlanta Journal-Constitution 10 Best Southern Books of the Year • A Parade Pick • A Chicago Public Library Top 10 Best Books of the Year • A KCRW Top 10 Books of the Year

An Instant Washington Post, USA Today, and Indie Bestseller

"Epic.... I was just enraptured by the lineage and the story of this modern African-American family.... A combination of historical and modern story—I've never read anything quite like it. It just consumed me." —Oprah Winfrey, Oprah Book Club Pick

An Indie Next Pick • A New York Times Book Everyone Will Be Talking About • 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 Washington Post 10 Books of the Month • A CNN Best Book of the Month • A Time 11 Best Books of the Month • A Ms. Most Anticipated Book of the Year • A Goodreads Most Anticipated Book of the Year • A BookPage Writer to Watch • A USA Today Book Not to Miss • A Chicago Tribune Summer Must-Read • An Observer Best Summer Book • A Millions Most Anticipated Book • A Ms. Book of the Month • A Well-Read Black Girl Book Club Pick • 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 NAACP Image Award-winning poet makes her fiction debut with this National Book Award-longlisted, 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...

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Awards-
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 the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize, was longlisted for the National Book Award for Poetry, and was a finalist for the PEN/Voelcker Award, the George Washington Prize, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. 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. The Love Songs of W. E. B. Du Bois is her first novel and was a New York Times bestseller, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction, longlisted for the National Book Award, shortlisted for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize, a Finalist for the Kirkus Prize for Fiction, longlisted for the Aspen Words Literary Prize, and an Oprah Book Club Pick.

Reviews-
  • Library Journal

    February 1, 2021

    After the National Book Award long-listed The Age of Phillis, poet Jeffers returns with a debut novel tracking a Black family from Colonial times to the present. Young narrator Ailey Pearl Garfield carries the name of two august Black Americans--choreographer Alvin Ailey and her own great-grandmother--and hopes to live up to W.E.B. Du Bois's ideals. With a 75,000-copy first printing.

    Copyright 2021 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from April 19, 2021
    Poet Jeffers (The Age of Phyllis) debuts with a staggering and ambitious saga exploring African American history. Ailey Pearl Garfield, the youngest daughter of Geoff Garfield, a light-skinned Washington, D.C., physician, and Belle Driskell Garfield, a Southern school teacher, reckons with ancestral trauma while growing up in the 1980s and ’90s. Throughout, historical sketches (or “songs”) link Ailey to her ancestors: Creeks, enslaved Africans, and early Scot slave owners. Ailey follows in the footsteps of her parents, attending the southern HBCU where they met and married as undergraduates before moving north to the “City,” where Geoff attended medical school at Mecca University (a thinly veiled Howard). W.E.B. Du Bois’s theories emerge in epigraphs throughout and are sagaciously reflected in the plot, as the accounts of Ailey’s college life correspond to the “talented tenth.” Later, tragedy unfolds as Lydia, Ailey’s oldest sister who is haunted by childhood sexual abuse, succumbs to crack addiction. The multigenerational story bursts open when Ailey unearths some unknown family history during her graduate studies, as well as secrets of the Black female founder of her family’s alma mater. Themes of family, class, higher education, feminism, and colorism yield many rich layers. Readers will be floored. Agent: Sarah Burns, the Gernert Company.

  • Kirkus

    May 15, 2021
    A sprawling, ambitious debut novel that is as impassioned in promoting Black women's autonomy as it is insistent on acknowledging our common humanity. Ailey Pearl Garfield, the protagonist of this epochal saga, is a compelling m�lange of intellectual curiosity, scathing observation, and volatile emotion. Though her grandmother may have preferred that she join the parade of medical doctors in their family, Ailey is destined to become a historian. Her journey toward that goal, fraught with heartache, upheaval, and conflict from her childhood through adolescence and collegiate years, is interwoven with the results of her inquiry into her family history. That history is deeply rooted in the Georgia town of Chicasetta, where Ailey's Black ancestors were enslaved and exploited by a "White Man with Strange Eyes" named Samuel Pinchard, who not only brutalized and demeaned his slaves, but also haphazardly procreated with them over the decades before the Civil War. The "songs" interspersed throughout the book, chronicling in vivid, sometimes-graphic detail the antebellum lives of Ailey's forbears, are bridges linking Ailey's own coming-of-age travails in what is referred to only as the City. Precocious, outspoken, and sensitive, Ailey often tests the patience of the grown-ups in her life, especially her parents, Geoff and Belle, whose own arduous passage to love and marriage through the 1950s and '60s is among the many subplots crowding this capacious, time-traversing narrative. The story always swerves back to Chicasetta, where Ailey spends her summers, and her encounters with friends and relations, the most notable of whom is her beloved Uncle Root, a retired professor at a historically Black college where he'd first made the acquaintance of the novel's eponymous scholar/activist. In her first novel, Jeffers, a celebrated poet, manages the difficult task of blending the sweeping with the intimate, and, as in most big books, she risks stress-testing some of her own narrative threads. Still, the sturdiest of those threads can throb with haunting poignancy, as in the account of Ailey's promising-but-troubled sister, Lydia, which can stand alone as a masterful deconstruction of addiction's origins and outcomes. If this isn't the Great American Novel, it's a mighty attempt at achieving one.

    COPYRIGHT(2021) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Booklist

    June 1, 2021
    Poet Jeffers reinvigorates the multigenerational saga in her first novel, an audacious, mellifluous love song to an African American family. In alternate chapters, Jeffers traces the coming of age of her contemporary heroine, Ailey, juxtaposed against the tales of multiracial ancestors whose sufferings and blood infuse the rich Georgia soil. Jeffers' lyrical cadences shimmer across the historical chapters, echoing biblical genealogies in connecting Ailey to her roots. Her story is inseparable from those who went before, and like her beloved Uncle Root, she is destined to preserve their history. Some stories she would rather forget: the sexual abuse that will haunt Ailey and her sisters, as it did their foremothers; the indelible yet often denied connection between white masters and African slaves, resulting in family members who "pass" for white, and "color struck" Negro clubs and sororities. Yet the strength of Ailey's family bonds enable her to overcome monstrous racism and sexism to become her community's prophet. "And the Word was knowledge. And the knowledge was a sound within the flesh, which may have been the Good Lord, or may have been dead ones in Africa talking across an ocean, or our people here on this side." Incandescent and not to be missed.

    COPYRIGHT(2021) Booklist, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Ron Charles, Washington Post

    "Whatever must be said to get you to heft this daunting debut novel by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, I'll say, because The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois is the kind of book that comes around only once a decade. Yes, at roughly 800 pages, it is, indeed, a mountain to climb, but the journey is engrossing, and the view from the summit will transform your understanding of America. . . . With the depth of its intelligence and the breadth of its vision, The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois is simply magnificent." — Ron Charles, Washington Post

    "Triumphant. . . . Quite simply the best book that I have read in a very, very long time. . . . An epic tale of adventure that brings to mind characters you never forget: Meg Murry in A Wrinkle in Time, Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird, Huckleberry Finn. . . . The historical archives of Black Americans are too often filled with broad outlines of what happened. . . . One of the many triumphs of Love Songs is how Jeffers transforms this large history into a story that feels specific and cinematic in the telling. . . . Just as Toni Morrison did in Beloved, Jeffers uses fiction to fill in the gaping blanks of those who have been rendered nameless and therefore storyless. . . . A sweeping, masterly debut." — Veronica Chambers, New York Times Book Review

    "The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois is epic in its scope. [It] traces the story of a family, the town in Georgia where they come from, and their migration outward over generations. The word epic is overused these days, but this book was meant to be an epic and it is. . . . This is one of the most American books I have ever read. It's a book about the United States. It's a book about the legacy of slavery in this country. . . . And it's also a book about traumas and loves that sustain over generations." — Noel King, NPR

    "[An] ambitious début novel, by a noted poet. . . . Jeffers amasses details, richly rendering suffering and resistance." — New Yorker

    "A feat of beauty and breadth." — Time, 100 Must-Read Books of the Year

    "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's 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

    "Stunning." — People, Top 10 Books of the Year

    "A sweeping matriarchal epic that leads readers through a majestic tour of race, family, and love in America, this striking debut novel by an award-winning poet is, indeed, the Great American Novel at its finest." — Joshunda Sanders, Boston Globe's Best Books of the Year

    "With The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois, Jeffers has created an opus, an indelible entry to the canon of contemporary American literature and one of the foundational fictional texts of Black literature worthy of sitting alongside Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye and Jesmyn Ward's Sing, Unburied, Sing." — Latria Graham, Atlanta Journal-Constitution

    "Stupendously good. . . . Jeffers' renditions of Black family traditions and the burden of respectability politics are spot-on, and made me wish the book was even longer." — Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR Best Books of the Year

    "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...

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The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois
An Oprah's Book Club Novel
Honoree Fanonne Jeffers
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