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Jam on the Vine
by Lashonda Katrice Barnett


Overview - 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

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.  Read more...


 
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More About Jam on the Vine by Lashonda Katrice Barnett
 
 
 
Overview
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

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.

 
Details
  • ISBN-13: 9780802123343
  • ISBN-10: 0802123341
  • Publisher: Grove Pr
  • Publish Date: February 2015
  • Page Count: 323
  • Dimensions: 1 x 5.75 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.28 pounds


Related Categories

Books > Fiction > Literary
Books > Fiction > Historical - General

 
Publishers Weekly Reviews

Publishers Weekly® Reviews

  • Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
  • Review Date: 2014-11-03
  • Reviewer: Staff

This wonderful debut novel takes the early 20th century and brings it to life, both in the South and in the Midwest. Ivoe Williams is a brilliant young woman who grows up in Texas, the child of emancipated slaves, and despite the obstacles she faces, manages to get a degree in journalism in Austin. But no newspapers will hire her because she is an African-American woman. Her frustration with the Jim Crow South causes her to uproot and move to Kansas City, where she and her lover, Ona, start a newspaper, the first female-run African-American newspaper, called Jam! On the Vine. She uses this platform to examine segregation and the American prison system of the day, sometimes at great personal risk. Barnett doesn’t shy from exploring the queer community of the time, “othering” her protagonist even further, while the experiences of Ivoe’s family add a wonderfully vibrant, fully realized vision of the shadowy corners of America’s history. Agent: Brandt & Hochman Literary Agents. (Feb.)

 
BookPage Reviews

Two black trailblazers inspire my debut

For me, the first act of writing historical fiction is resistance. There are tropes within the American imagination that pop up readily; it takes a slapping of your own hand to not reach for these tropes and recycle them. 

When I began working on Jam on the Vine, I did not want to write about a dysfunctional black family. Nor would I put a black woman protagonist into a role I have seen too often—maid, prostitute, junkie . . . unloved, uneducated, uninspired. Luckily, mining black history, which I have done scholastically and creatively for 20 years, brings you face-to-face with so many wonderful characters that it is easy to resist the tropes.

I wanted to attempt what I believe the best historical writing—both scholarly and fictive—can do: shed light on the seed of a social problem that cripples its current society. I had no idea what the “problem” might be when I set out to write; however, I knew that any articulation of said problem would be found in the newspaper.

More than any institution in black America, including the black church, African-American newspapers have held the government accountable: demanding rights for its black citizenry and disseminating life-sustaining information. I knew my protagonist was an editor and journalist who, realistically, would not find employment at a white newspaper and therefore would have to launch her own.

Two trailblazing black women journalists inspired Ivoe Williams, the heroine of Jam on the Vine: Ida B. Wells (1862-1931) and Charlotta Bass (1874-1969). Driven by the murder by lynching of black male friends, Wells, who wrote for the New York Age newspaper, began to document lynchings and their causes, most notably in her monographs Southern Horrors (1892) and The Red Record (1895). Bass was a suffragist and the first black woman to own and operate a newspaper, the California Eagle.

Like both women, Ivoe is a bookish girl who goes to college. (Ninety-four black colleges and universities thrived in the first decade of the 20th century, yet we don’t encounter their stories in Progressive-era narratives. Ever.) Like Bass, I wanted Ivoe to launch her own newspaper. Like Wells, I wanted Ivoe’s journalism to have purpose, but felt I could not write about lynching for my own mental health.

Drawing on the early 20th-century history of Texas, one cannot help but notice the birth and proliferation of prison farms—the roots of the incarceration crisis we now face. The moment I stumbled across this fact, I knew that Ivoe’s newspaper would call attention to shady police procedures involving the racist arrest and (often erroneous) imprisonment of black men. This crisis continues to plague America.

The last value I brought to Jam on the Vine hinged on sexual orientation. Much damage has been done to disconnect the social and political—not just artistic—contributions of homosexuals from the American narrative. Placing a black lesbian activist at the center of an early 20th-century story was a natural choice and also a political one.

In writing Jam on the Vine, my valentine to the black press, I’ve exercised my strong belief that historical fiction can go a long way in restoring marginalized groups  to their rightful places within a society’s past, present and future. Today, black newspapers continue to trumpet the age-old call for justice.


Missouri-born author LaShonda Katrice Barnett is also a playwright and editor. She now lives in Manhattan.

 

This article was originally published in the February 2015 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

 
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