Jam on the Vine

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"A captivating saga...The verdict: 'unforgettable'; 'gripping'; 'instant classic.'" --Elle

"As addictive as your mom's fresh-baked buttermilk biscuits, and just as delicious." --Essence

A new American classic: a dynamic tale of triumph against the odds and the compelling story of one woman’s struggle for equality that belongs alongside Jazz by Toni Morrison and The Color Purple by Alice Walker.

An explosive debut, Jam on the Vine chronicles the life of a trailblazing African American woman journalist through the start of the twentieth century.

Ivoe Williams, the precocious daughter of a Muslim cook and a metalsmith from central-east Texas, first ignites her lifelong obsession with journalism when she steals a newspaper from her mother’s white employer. Living in the poor, segregated quarter of Little Tunis, Ivoe immerses herself in printed matter as an escape from her dour surroundings. She earns a scholarship to the prestigious Willetson College in Austin, only to return over-qualified to the menial labor offered by her hometown’s racially-biased employers.

Ivoe eventually flees the Jim Crow South with her family and settles in Kansas City, where she and her former teacher and lover, Ona, found the first female-run African American newspaper, Jam! On the Vine. In the throes of the Red Summer—the 1919 outbreak of lynchings and race riots across the Midwest—Ivoe risks her freedom, and her life, to call attention to the atrocities of segregation in the American prison system.

Skillfully interweaving Ivoe’s story with those of her family members, LaShonda Katrice Barnett’s Jam on the Vine is both an epic vision of the hardships and injustices that defined an era and a moving and compelling story of a complicated history we only thought we knew. 

About the Author

LaShonda Katrice Barnett was born in Kansas City, Missouri in 1974 and grew up in Park Forest, Illinois. She is the author of a story collection and editor of the volumes: I Got Thunder: Black Women Songwriters On Their Craft (2007) and Off the Record: Conversations with African American & Brazilian Women Musicians (Rowman & Littlefield, Spring 2014). For short fiction, she received the College Language Association Award and the New York Money for Women/Barbara Deming Memorial Artist Grant. Recent awards for writing and historical fiction research include the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities & National Endowment for the Humanities grant; Mystic Seaport's Munson Institute of Maritime Culture Paul Cuffe Memorial Fellowship; Sewanee Writers Conference Tennessee Williams Scholarship and the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center Advanced Fiction fellowship. A graduate of the University of Missouri, she received an M.A. in Women's History from Sarah Lawrence College and a Ph.D. in American Studies from the College of William and Mary. She has taught literature and history at Columbia University, Sarah Lawrence College, Hunter College and Brown University.

Praise for Jam on the Vine:

One of NBC's "14 Books to Read This Black History Month"
One of TheGuardian.com's "Best Books This February"

"Weaving actual historical records throughout, Barnett creates an ode to activism, writing with a scholar's eye and a poet's soul." --Tayari Jones, O the Oprah Magazine

"As addictive as your mom's fresh-baked buttermilk biscuits, and just as delicious." --Essence

"[A] big, bold bildungsroman of a debut." --The Guardian.com

"This wonderful debut novel takes the early 20th century and brings it to life . . . a wonderfully vibrant, fully realized vision of the shadowy corners of America's history." --Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"This compelling work of historical fiction about a black female journalist escaping Jim Crow laws of the South and fighting injustice in Kansas City, MO, through her reportage, will bring wider recognition to the role of the African American press in American history, especially during 1919's Red Summer of lynchings and race rioting in northern cities." --Library Journal (starred review)

"An impassioned historical novel chronicles the early-20th-century resurgence of African-American activism through the life of a poor Texas girl who channels a lifelong love of newsprint into a groundbreaking journalism career . . . Barnett excels here at what for most writers is a difficult task: evoking what it feels like to grow into one's calling as a writer through psychological intimacy as much as immediate experiences." --Kirkus Reviews

"A celebration of beauty, boldness, of the flowering of family, and the triumph of liberty against the odds that freedom and justice always face, this big-hearted kaleidoscopic novel illuminates our history and Barnett's indomitable protagonist lifts up the reader." --Amy Bloom

"By telling a sweeping story of one remarkable woman and her family, Barnett carries us through the joys and horrors of the black experience at the turn of the past century with such immediacy that we feel the events personally. Ivoe's story becomes our story as she gathers the courage to become her truest self by founding her own newspaper and finding her voice. Barnett's language is lyrical and gritty, salty and funny and piercing all at once. Buoyed by the indomitable spirit of her heroine, she carries us with a steady hand through a crucial history, which gains an eerie relevance in light of today's racial dynamics." --Margaret Wrinkle

"From the cotton fields of Jim Crow Texas to Kansas City to Paris and back again, Jam On the Vine's story of family, courage, and love will grab you and not let go. I loved this novel so much I wanted to start reading it again as soon as I finished." --Marie Myung-Ok Lee

"In lyric prose Barnett delivers a vivid portrait of life in America under Jim Crow in early 20th century. From the rural south and through the Great Migration to the cities of the industrial Midwest, she delves deeply into the lives of characters who endure the oppression and violence of racism. Jam On The Vine is a stunning and vital novel that heralds an essential and important new voice in American letters." --Jeffrey Lent

"Jam On The Vine is a wonder of a first novel. Following the struggles of one remarkable family through generations of adversity, this powerful and beautifully-written story resonates with historical significance and shines in the end with the triumph of the human spirit." --Amy Greene, author of Bloodroot and Long Man

"From Juneteenth in Texas, to the 1925 Pan African Congress in Paris, Barnett combines an historian's craft with a novelist's heart. Her heroine is propelled through innovative tropes: the ingenuity of her Muslim mother, her love of knowledge, passion for women, and determination to use the printed word as a tool for freedom. A romance of the Black female intellectual that is compelling, informative and triumphant." --Sarah Schulman

Publisher: Grove Press
Pub date: February 09, 2016
336 pages
Format: Paperback