Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction • Longlisted for the National Book Award for Fiction • Finalist for the Kirkus Prize for Fiction • Shortlisted for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize
Instant New York Times, 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
“The kind of book that comes around only once a decade. . . . 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
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 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 Africans 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. Since she was a child, Ailey has fought a battle for belonging that is made all the more difficult by a hovering trauma and the whispers of women—her mother, Belle; her sister, Lydia; and a maternal line reaching back two centuries—who 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. Along the way, 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.