NATIONAL BESTSELLER • READ WITH JENNA BOOK CLUB PICK AS FEATURED ON TODAY • A spellbinding debut novel tracing three generations of a Southern Black family and one daughter’s discovery that she has the power to change her family’s legacy.
“A rhapsodic hymn to Black women.”—The New York Times Book Review
“I fell in love with this family, from Joan’s fierce heart to her grandmother Hazel’s determined resilience. Tara Stringfellow will be an author to watch for years to come.”—Jacqueline Woodson, New York Times bestselling author of Red at the Bone
LONGLISTED FOR THE ASPEN WORDS LITERARY PRIZE • ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: The Boston Globe, NPR, BuzzFeed, Glamour, PopSugar
Summer 1995: Ten-year-old Joan, her mother, and her younger sister flee her father’s explosive temper and seek refuge at her mother’s ancestral home in Memphis. This is not the first time violence has altered the course of the family’s trajectory. Half a century earlier, Joan’s grandfather built this majestic house in the historic Black neighborhood of Douglass—only to be lynched days after becoming the first Black detective in the city. Joan tries to settle into her new life, but family secrets cast a longer shadow than any of them expected.
As she grows up, Joan finds relief in her artwork, painting portraits of the community in Memphis. One of her subjects is their enigmatic neighbor Miss Dawn, who claims to know something about curses, and whose stories about the past help Joan see how her passion, imagination, and relentless hope are, in fact, the continuation of a long matrilineal tradition. Joan begins to understand that her mother, her mother’s mother, and the mothers before them persevered, made impossible choices, and put their dreams on hold so that her life would not have to be defined by loss and anger—that the sole instrument she needs for healing is her paintbrush.
Unfolding over seventy years through a chorus of unforgettable voices that move back and forth in time, Memphis paints an indelible portrait of inheritance, celebrating the full complexity of what we pass down, in a family and as a country: brutality and justice, faith and forgiveness, sacrifice and love.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Past violence threatens a family’s future in this beautifully haunting novel by Tara M. Stringfellow. Interweaving three generations of Southern Black women’s stories, the captivating saga begins with 10-year-old Joan, who’s confronted with a traumatic memory at her mother’s childhood home in Memphis’ Douglass neighborhood. From her grandparents’ fairy-tale romance in the 1930s through its gut-wrenching end in the 1950s to her mother Miriam’s own violent love story taking root in the 1970s, we’re artfully led through the women’s rich, beautiful, sometimes painful lives. It’s impossible not to love Stringfellow’s wonderfully real and resilient characters. We were particularly mesmerized by Miss Dawn, who’s like a guardian angel and your favorite auntie rolled into one. Brilliant, heart-wrenching, and defiantly joyful, Memphis is a glowing testament to the power of Black women.
Stringfellow's vibrant debut celebrates the resilience of women over multiple generations in a Black Memphis family, as well as the city that is central to their lives. In 1995, Miriam North flees her abusive husband with their two daughters, returning to Memphis to live with her sister, August, in the house Miriam and August grew up in. Stringfellow tells the story in bits and pieces, moving backward and forward in time; there's a hint early on that Derek, August's 15-year-old son, harmed Miriam's 10-year-old daughter, Joan, when they were younger. The reunion—and the tension felt by Joan—sets the stage for an unearthing of family secrets and an exploration of the traumas each generation has survived. As the narrative stretches further into the past, the reader learns about Miriam's mother, Hazel, and how she endured the aftermath of her husband's lynching in the 1950s. Stringfellow romanticizes Memphis—"Magnolias were white with bloom and as fragrant as honeysuckle.... There was music. There was always music in Memphis"—even as she lays bare its history of racism and violence. Just when this starts to feel sentimental, the author makes it achingly real. This satisfies like a bowl of butter pecan.
Strong Black women
It is good to have a story about strong Black women, told by someone in that group. It helps me to understand their background, their struggles, their joys.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The descriptive imagery was probably my favorite part. I normally don’t like when the books are too descriptive, but the way the author describes each scene makes it feel like you’re actually there. I also enjoyed the journey of each of the women. they all had their own story, and they never gave up even though something by was always trying to tear them down. would highly recommend. It’s an awesome read.
A miracle of a book. A story of triumph