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.
"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
"A staggering and ambitious saga.... Themes of family, class, higher education, feminism, and colorism yield many rich layers. Readers will be floored." - Publishers Weekly
"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
"A vibrant and tender coming-of-age novel. Ailey Pearl Garfield is a young girl reckoning with what it means to be a Black woman in America.... [Ailey's] journey features complex and intimate narratives of love and heartbreak from her family's two centuries in the American South, giving her not only insight into her family's complicated past, but also the tools to imagine her own future." - Time
"[A] generational magnum opus." - O, the Oprah Magazine
"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
"This ambitious debut novel by a National Book Award-nominated poet chronicles the journey of an American family from the colonial slave trade through the Civil War to our present day, and one Black woman's coming-to-terms with her legacy." - Barbara VanDenburgh, USA Today
"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
"Textually connected to the works of Harriet Jacobs, Zora Neale Hurston, Alice Walker, and Toni Morrison, to name a few, [ The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois is] a judicious study of American history that humanizes its participants through exploration of their stories.... Reminiscent of both Alex Haley's Roots and Yaa Gyasi's Homegoing, the novel captures the spiritual resilience of African American women.... An amazing first novel." - Adele Newson-Horst, World Literature Today
"The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois, from acclaimed poet and first-time novelist Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, has hit every note -- and the finished product feels like a Southern gospel song that makes the chest swell with emotion." - Nylah Burton, Shondaland