Preview/Review: The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by POC Writer Ayana Mathis

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Image from The Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center

Specs on The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by POC Writer Ayana Mathis

  • 299 pages
  • Published by Vintage Books (Random House)
  • Fiction, historical fiction

Summary of The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by POC Writer Ayana Mathis

At 15 years old, Hattie Shepherd has left Georgia for Philadelphia to make a new life. Just a few years later, she becomes a new mother to twin babies. But life is unkind to her. Her husband brings home nothing but trouble, and she ends up the mother to 12 children. And while she works to provide them life’s necessities, she will not provide them love—she wants to prepare them for the harsh outside world.

Before You Read The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by POC Writer Ayana Mathis

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie spends one chapter on one to two of Hattie’s children. Each chapter is set in a different place and time during the Great Migration, starting in 1925 and ending in 1980.

  • 1925 Philadelphia and Jubilee
  • 1948 Floyd
  • 1950 Six
  • 1951 Ruthie
  • 1954 Ella
  • 1968 Alice and Billups
  • 1969 Franklin
  • 1975 Bell
  • 1980 Cassie
  • 1980 Sala

The Great Migration

The Great Migration refers to the period of time between 1916 and 1970 when about six million African Americans moved out North and West. Up until the start of the Great Migration, 90 percent of African Americans lived only in the South.

A number of reasons prompted the Great Migration, chief among them the growing severity of hate crimes, the rise of the Klan and the implementation of the Jim Crow laws. With fewer and fewer employment opportunities, the African American community saw no other choice but to leave their homes in search for better options. Typically, this meant that they moved to highly industrialized cities.

Some of these top migration points included:

  • Chicago
  • New York City
  • Baltimore
  • Cleveland
  • Pittsburgh
  • St. Louis

The Great Migration prompted new kinds of freedoms. African Americans were able to explore and build what they could not before—urbanized communities and the emergence of distinct music, art and culture.

Thoughts on The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by POC Writer Ayana Mathis

The way the book is constructed makes it almost read like a collection of short stories—and the spine that keeps the pieces together is the fact that these characters are all the children of Hattie Shepherd.

Mathis took the time to approach each chapter in a unique way, experiment and determine what structure best serves the character in focus.

There’s a lot of hard work put into this book: not only are there race issues addressed during a very pivotal time in history, these characters deal with intense family problems and serious inner conflicts. The layers are as many as they are complex. There is nothing lazy about this read.

Other Reviews on The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by POC Writer Ayana Mathis

The New York Times 

Goodreads

The Guardian 

Telegraph 

 

 

 

 

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