“Haunting . . . To read The Good Negress is to fall under a spell, to open a window, to fly.” —Los Angeles Times Book Review
Twenty years after its initial publication, The Good Negress continues to be an important part of the literary canon, as relevant and necessary as ever. Set in 1960s Detroit, the novel centers around Denise Palms, who leaves her grandmother’s home in rural Virginia to reunite with her mother, stepfather, and older brothers. As a black teenage girl, Denise is given scarce opportunity beyond cooking, cleaning, and raising her mother’s baby. But an idealistic, demanding teacher opens Denise’s eyes to a future she has never considered, and soon she begins to question the limits of the life prescribed to her.
With lyrical, evocative prose, A. J. Verdelle captures Denise’s journey from adolescence to womanhood as she navigates the tension between loyalty and independence, and between circumstance and desire. The Good Negress is an unforgettable debut—simultaneously the portrait of a family and a glimpse into an era of twentieth-century America.
Winner of the Harold D. Vursell Memorial Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters
Finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction
In a particularly accomplished debut, Verdelle imbues her ambitious novel with a confident style, finely realized characters and a strikingly original first-person voice. In the early 1960s, 12-year-old Denise Palms, who has been living with her maternal grandmother in rural Virginia for five years, is summoned home to Detroit to care for her expectant mother, Margarete, new stepfather and adored older brothers. Neesey knows little of the world beyond Granma'am's country life but is excited to rejoin her two siblings who, in her absence, have become very different from each other: David is reliable and implacable, but unfocused Luke edward constantly courts trouble. At the local public school, Denise's intellectual promise catches the attention of Gloria Pearson, an idealistic young teacher, who works tirelessly to perfect Denise's backwater English and thereby raise her pupil's expectations for her future. Denise thrives under Gloria's tutelage, but conflict arises when her family's needs and her mentor's desires clash. At the same time, Luke edward's life slowly begins to spiral out of control when he gets caught stealing. Denise must become the fulcrum of her family's problems as she attempts to define her own identity. Verdelle imaginatively uses Denise's subtly evolving language to mirror the girl's growing awareness. Her characters, especially Margarete and Granma'am, are convincingly human in their true-to-life imperfections. Consistently absorbing and beautifully detailed, Verdelle's novel brings universal truths to an affecting study of adolescence. Author tour.