My Monticello

Jocelyn Nicole Johnson. Holt, $26.99 (224p) ISBN 978-1-250-80715-1
Johnson wrestles with questions of racial identity, post-racial society, and the legacies of slavery in her masterly debut collection. The pitch-perfect opener, “Control Negro,” follows Cornelius, a Black history professor whose peers mistake him for a janitor and whom white students mock with racist jokes, prompting him to plot with a married Black graduate student to have a son together and give him opportunities equal to those of “Average Caucasian Males.” In the experiment, the “Control Negro” doesn’t learn the identity of his father, and Cornelius observes from a distance, hopeful his son will turn out better. Other stories reckon with institutionalized racism in schools (“Something Sweet on the Tongue”) and the collateral damage wrought by the trauma endured by immigrants prior to leaving their homelands (“King of Xandria”). The superb title novella is set in the near future in Charlottesville, Va., where the Unite the Right rally has cast a long shadow and white supremacists pillage the downtown area. A collective of BIPOC residents decamp to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, seeking refuge. There’s Da’Naisha Hemings Love; her white boyfriend, Knox; and her other largely Black and brown neighbors. Love and her grandmother, MaViolet, descend from the Jefferson-Sally Hemings lineage, and thus occupy a unique position in the group. The author’s riveting storytelling and skill at rendering complex characters yield rich social commentary on Monticello and Jefferson’s complex ideologies of freedom, justice, and liberty. This incandescent work speaks not just to the moment, but to history. (Oct.)
Reviewed on : 07/21/2021
Release date: 10/05/2021
Genre: Fiction
Compact Disc - 978-1-250-82071-6
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