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Memphis
Cover of Memphis
Memphis
A Novel
Borrow Borrow
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.
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.
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  • From the cover Chapter 1

    Joan

    ­1995


    The house looked living. Mama squeezed my hand as the three of us gazed up at it, our bleary exhaustion no match for the animated brightness before us.

    “Papa Myron selected and placed each stone of the house’s foundation himself,” she whispered to me and Mya. “With the patience and diligence of a man deep in love.”

    The low house was a cat napping in the shade of plum trees, not at all like the three-­story Victorian fortress we had just left. This house seemed somehow large and small at once—­it sat on many different split levels that spanned out in all directions in a wild, Southern maze. A long driveway traversed the length of the yard, cut in half by a folding wooden barn gate. But what made the house breathe, what gave the house its lungs, was its front porch. Wide stone steps led to a front porch covered in heavy green ivy and honeysuckle and morning glory. Above the porch, my grandfather had erected a wooden pergola. Sunlight streaked through green vines and wooden planks that turned the porch into an unkempt greenhouse. The honeysuckle drew hummingbirds the size of baseballs; they fluttered atop the canopy in shades of indigo and emerald and burgundy. I could see cats on the porch—­a dozen of them, maybe, an impossible number except for what a quick count told me. Some slept in heaps that looked softer than down, while others sat atop the green canopy, paws swiping at the birds. Bees as big as hands buzzed about, pollinating the morning glories, giving the yard a feeling that the green expanse itself was alive and humming and moving. The butterflies are what solidified my fascination. Small and periwinkle-­blue, they danced within the canopy. The butterflies were African violets come alive. It was the finishing touch to a Southern symphony all conducted on a quarter-­acre plot.

    “Not now, Joan,” Mama said, sighing.

    I had out my pocket sketchbook, was already fumbling for the piece of charcoal somewhere in the many pockets of my Levi overalls. My larger sketchbook, my blank canvases the size of teacups, my brushes and inks and oils were all packed tight in the car. But my smaller sketchbook, I kept on me. At all times. Everywhere I went.

    I wanted to capture the life of the front porch, imprint it in my notebook and in my memory. A quick landscape. Should’ve only taken a few minutes, but Mama was right. We were all dog tired. Even Wolf, who had slept most of the journey. Mya’s face was drained of its usual spark, and as I slipped my sketchbook into my back jeans pocket, slightly defeated, her hand felt hot and limp as I took it in my own.

    Mya, Mama, and I walked up the wide stone front steps hand in hand. My memories of staying here felt vague and far away—­I’d been only three years old, and it felt like a lifetime ago—­but now I remembered sitting on the porch and pouring milk for the cats. I remembered Mama cautioning me not to spill, though I usually did anyway. Her laughter, too—­the sound of it like the seashell chimes coming from inside the house while I played with the cats echoed in my mind from years ago. And the door, I remembered that. It was a massive beast. A gilded lion’s head with a gold hoop in its snout was mounted on a wood door painted corn yellow. I had to paint a picture of this door, even if I had to spend months, years, finding the perfect hues. It was as magnificent as it was terrifying. By knocking, by opening the door, I knew we’d be letting out a whole host of ghosts.

    Mama raised her arm, grabbed the lion’s...
About the Author-
  • Poet, former attorney, Northwestern University MFA graduate, and semifinalist for the Fulbright Fellowship, Tara M. Stringfellow has written for Collective Unrest, Minerva Rising, Jet Fuel Review, Women Arts Quarterly Journal, and Apogee Journal, among other publications. After having lived in Okinawa, Ghana, Chicago, Cuba, Spain, Italy, and Washington, DC, she moved back home to Memphis, where she sits on her porch swing every evening with her hound, Huckleberry, listening to records and chatting with neighbors.
Reviews-
  • AudioFile Magazine Narrators Karen Murray and Adenrele Ojo perform this celebrated debut novel by former attorney Stringfellow with a deliberate rhythm and poignant empathy. Murray and Ojo shine as 10-year-old Joan moves with her mother and sister to live with their aunt to escape an abusive relationship. The narrative moves backward and forward in time, revealing deep wounds inflicted by racism and horrific violence. Murray's and Ojo's narrations give life to three generations of African-American women. They also use their voices to show how faith and love can create hope. Stringfellow's personal and plaintive introduction and postscript are filled with passion and earnestness. Her solid, vivid characters and her love for her hometown of Memphis make this a must-listen. R.O. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award � AudioFile 2022, Portland, Maine
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    All copies of this title, including those transferred to portable devices and other media, must be deleted/destroyed at the end of the lending period.

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A Novel
Tara M. Stringfellow
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