As many of my Amsterdam News readers know, I have decided to extend February’s Black History Month and March’s Women’s History Month into a celebration of Black women for the next several months. Many of us are getting vaccinated and slowly reentering the world and maybe even venturing out to take a vacation. If you are going to give yourself some time to read for pleasure, I would strongly suggest picking up Kaitlyn Greendige’s latest brilliant novel “Libertie”.
Some of you may be familiar with Greenidge’s first novel “We Love You, Charlie Freeman,” a novel that chronicles the four members of the Black Freeman family as they move from their home in Dorchester, Mass. to a mansion in an all-white part of the Berkshires. Not only are they a part of a research project, they live with a fifth family member, a chimpanzee. I’ll just say the novel takes us on a series of journeys that force us to reflect on family, race, racism and so much more.
Greenidge’s latest novel “Libertie” is inspired by the life of one of the first Black female doctors in the United States and rich with historical detail. The novel follows a freeborn Black girl in Reconstruction-era Brooklyn, Libertie Sampson. Even though Libertie is to go to medical school and practice alongside her mother, she is drawn to the arts. Unlike her mother, she is too dark to pass for white. And to make her life even more multi-faceted, Libertie decides to accept the proposal of a young Haitian man and attempt to parse what freedom actually means for a Black woman.
To say that Greenidge is one of the most talented writers walking among us would be an understatement. I often read novels before I start a writing project in order to help me hear language as it rolls off the page. I am also always looking for ways that novelists create new worlds based on historical events or actual individuals who have done either mundane or extraordinary things with their lives.
Many of us have the novels of Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Gloria Naylor or Maya Angelou on our shelves or readily available at our public libraries. However, it is imperative we support a new generation of novelists like Greenidge, Tiphanie Yanique, Brit Bennet and Yaa Gyasi who are writing stories that help us see ourselves in new ways. Their writing helps contextualize our relationships with cities, the Caribbean and parts of the continent of Africa. They celebrate Black women as complicated figures, worthy and deserving of love and critique. They present Black women in the world in all of their glory and flaws. “Libertie” is a must read for anyone interested in knowing a piece of themselves they were unaware even existed.
Christina Greer, Ph.D., is an associate professor at Fordham University, the author of “Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream,” and the co-host of the podcast FAQ-NYC and also What’s in It for Us podcast.