cover image Black Bottom Saints

Black Bottom Saints

Alice Randall. Amistad, $26.99 (384p) ISBN 978-0-06-296862-3

Randall returns to adult fiction (after The Diary of B. B. Bright, Possible Princess) with a sprawling and intimate genre-bending chronicle of the adventures and tribulations of the extraordinary real-life Detroit emcee and theater director Joseph “Ziggy” Johnson (1913–1968). Through a narrative shaped as a book of saints’s biographies, from poet Robert Hayden to singer Ethel Waters, Ziggy records his encounters with 16 famous and lesser-known characters who made Black Bottom, the commercial and residential heart of Detroit’s black community in the early 20th century, into a destination for “breadwinners” fleeing the Jim Crow South in search of a better life. As Ziggy reflects on his life from his deathbed, the reader learns about the family he made from strangers and students—most notably the tennis player Althea Gibson, referred to throughout as “Colored Girl.” Randall’s portrait of black America sheds light on cultural history through startlingly personal moments, such as Ziggy dropping his Women’s Club aunt Sadye Pryor’s name for social currency. Whether chronicling famous historical figures or local characters, Randall makes Ziggy’s saints worthy of his reflection. This works as a memorable love letter to Detroit, as well as a remarkable tableau. Agent: Marie Dutton Brown, Marie Brown Assoc. (Aug.)