Ancestor Trouble & Other People's Books

To encourage preorders and share the spirit of my book, Ancestor Trouble, in advance of publication, I’m doing a monthly giveaway to honor books that inspired me.

My book, Ancestor Trouble (March 2022), has a cover! It’s a Rachel Ake design, and I adore it. To encourage preorders, which are important to helping a book find its readership, and to share the spirit of Ancestor Trouble in the lead-up to publication, I want to honor some of the books that inspired me and helped shape my thinking and feeling as I wrote. Each month I’ll give away a set of two or three books (purchased by me) to one person. I’m starting with these three excellent books:

To enter, pre-order Ancestor Trouble for yourself or someone else—signed or personalized from my beloved Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn (indicate details in order comments at checkout), or an unsigned copy from your local indie or online bookseller of choice—and send the receipt in reply to this newsletter or as a DM to me at Twitter, Instagram, or (if there’s no other way) my Facebook author page. Entries must be received by July 16, at 11:59 PM (Pacific). Each entry will be assigned a number, and the winner will be selected at random from that number. All preorders, whether before or after this newsletter, count. Official requests to your library to purchase the book for borrowers count, too. Updated to add: The winner is Martha Burzynski.

I’ve changed the name of this newsletter from Ancestor Hunger to Ancestor Trouble. In my experience, the two are usually close cousins, and with the book coming out I didn’t want two titles floating around.

Events, recommendations, and miscellany:

  • On August 4, Rebecca Donner and I will discuss (over Zoom) her gorgeous and fascinating All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days, about her courageous great-great aunt, Mildred Harnack, the American woman Hitler ordered executed for her role at the heart of Berlin’s underground resistance. “Donner’s research is impeccable, and her fluid prose and vivid character sketches keep the pages turning as the story moves toward its inevitable, tragic conclusion,” says Publishers Weekly, in a starred review. The Zoom event is a book launch, hosted by Community Bookstore, and will be held August 4, at 7:30 PM (Eastern).

  • Spanish archeologists carried torches and lamps into caves in an effort to figure out how “our ancestors conquered the dark to produce the world's oldest art.”

  • A “massive fossilized skull that is at least 140,000 years old is a new species of ancient human,” according to researchers. They gave the species the name “Homo longi” and the nickname “‘Dragon Man,’ for the Dragon River region of northeast China where the skull was discovered.”

  • I mentioned this novel a couple months ago, but Honorée Fanonne Jeffers’ magnificent multigenerational epic, The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois, is out in August. In a profile, Publishers Weekly calls the book “a loving and sprawling portrait of Black Americans who survive slavery only to fight to make space for themselves in a country that continues to question their worth.” The story spans more than 800 pages, and Jeffers’ editor, Erin Wicks, encouraged the expansion from the original 450-page manuscript. “It all was necessary to realize the full brilliance of the book’s ambition,” she said. The book is a marvel.

  • Stacie Marshall farms 300 acres of north Georgia land that’s been in her family for generations. Her ancestors acquired the land “in an 1833 lottery that gave Creek and Cherokee land to white people,” and then her family went on to enslave seven people there. Kim Severson reports on Marshall’s efforts to grapple with what she, personally, can and needs to offer to descendants of the people her family enslaved.

  • I’m making my way through the fourth season of Dani Shapiro’s always thoughtful Family Secrets podcast.

  • I read Ashley Ford’s bestselling new memoir, Somebody’s Daughter, in a day. It’s wise and harrowing, beautifully written, and triumphant in a true, grounded way. Her Fresh Air interview is a great supplement.

  • My stepsister is visiting our parents, and on a bookshelf she found my mom’s assortment of pro-Tr*mp screeds, and also this, a new iteration of the kind of book that was a constant in our house during my mom’s days as a holy-roller preacher. As I write in Ancestor Trouble, I trace my preoccupation with ancestors to each of my parents, in unexpected and also predictable ways.

  • Don’t just sit there looking like a tree full of owls. Don’t look so surprised or stricken. Said to a group.” In May I posted a collection of my granny’s expressions at Medium.

  • I’m still putting together my acknowledgement genealogy class (coming sometime this fall) while finishing up copy edits, staying on top of my day job, and working again on the novel I put aside to write Ancestor Trouble.

All good wishes until next time, and as always thanks for reading.