An “extraordinary” (Laurie Halse Anderson) young poet traces the lives of her foremothers in West Tennessee, from those enslaved centuries ago to her grandmother, her mother, and finally herself, in this stunning debut celebrating Black girlhood and womanhood throughout American history.
“A masterpiece that beautifully captures the heartbreak that accompanies coming of age for Black girls becoming Black women.”—Evette Dionne, author of Lifting as We Climb, longlisted for the National Book Award
Walking Gentry Home tells the story of Alora Young’s ancestors, from the unnamed women forgotten by the historical record but brought to life through Young’s imagination; to Amy, the first of Young’s foremothers to arrive in Tennessee, buried in an unmarked grave, unlike the white man who enslaved her and fathered her child; through Young’s great-grandmother Gentry, unhappily married at fourteen; to her own mother, the teenage beauty queen rejected by her white neighbors; down to Young in the present day as she leaves childhood behind and becomes a young woman.
The lives of these girls and women come together to form a unique American epic in verse, one that speaks of generational curses, coming of age, homes and small towns, fleeting loves and lasting consequences, and the brutal and ever-present legacy of slavery in our nation’s psyche. Each poem is a story in verse, and together they form a heart-wrenching and inspiring family saga of girls and women connected through blood and history.
Informed by archival research, the last will and testament of an enslaver, formal interviews, family lore, and even a DNA test, Walking Gentry Home gives voice to those too often muted in America: Black girls and women.
About the Author
Alora Young is a college student, an actor, and the Youth Poet Laureate of the Southern United States. Her poetry has appeared in The New York Times and The Washington Post, and she has performed her poetry on CNN, CBS, and the TEDx stage. Originally from Tennessee, Young currently attends Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania.
“A multigenerational memoir delicately crafted in verse . . . With lyrical precision, Young refracts Black history through her family’s experiences of racism and ‘deferred dreams’ . . . A moving debut from a young writer with great promise.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“A lyrical debut.”—Time, “12 New Books You Should Read in August”
“Walking Gentry Home is extraordinary—family truth written with fire, an American story. The American Story, I should say. Poems that call out the lies that cage us. Songs that lift up the strength of girls and women who were (who are) denied their due. A book that honors ancestors, demands a reckoning, and gives me hope.”—Laurie Halse Anderson, author of Speak and Chains, finalists for the National Book Award
“Walking Gentry Home is a masterpiece of a book that so beautifully captures the heartbreak that accompanies coming of age for Black girls becoming Black women. It’s that tissue that connects every girl in a family tree, no matter the generation, and it’s that pain, triumph, uncertainty, and trauma that collectively runs through our veins. Alora Young, on the cusp of womanhood herself, is a powerful observer of this transition, operating almost as a genealogist, a storyteller of her family’s history—and all our histories as well. Alora, daughter of Monette and many foremothers known and unknown, will be heralded as a literary force for many, many generations to come.”—Evette Dionne, author of Lifting as We Climb, longlisted for the National Book Award
“The truth-telling in this book will move and stir things in you that you did not even know were there. What a gift to the world. Alora Young’s words lay beauty on the page with the invitation to learn our histories through the women in her family. The tenderness and love of Young’s writing with the voices of her ancestors is astonishing. You have no choice but to love this book and let our generational curses be broken.”—Bettina L. Love, professor of education at the University of Georgia and author of We Want to Do More Than Survive
“This is a brilliant book, written by an equally ingenious author. This book captures readers right from the start. Walking Gentry Home is a must-read for any of us who dare to know more about our history in order to inform how we live, learn, and navigate our present worlds. A call to concurrently tap into our hearts and minds as we learn from our ancestors, this book teaches as it inspires.”—H. Richard Milner IV, chair of education at the Department of Teaching and Learning at Vanderbilt Peabody College and author of Start Where You Are, but Don’t Stay There
“These are necessary poems—pulsing with syntactic urgency, cinematic poignancy, textural pleasure, and deep generational wisdom.”—Karyna McGlynn, author of 50 Things Kate Bush Taught Me About the Multiverse
“From the Civil War to World War II to Vietnam; from the Great Depression to the height of the HIV pandemic to the murder of George Floyd; and from gospel songs to Sammy Davis Jr. to Lauryn Hill and Beyoncé, Young’s intimate family history also takes us through the history of the United States. . . . It’s difficult not to feel like her family history is all of our families’ histories. You may see yourself reflected in Young’s verse. Like me, you may step back to imagine your foremothers and how they shape your becoming.”—Nashville Scene
“270 years of [Young’s] family history told in verse and based on long interviews with her family members to recreate the stories of her living and long-departed ancestors.”—The Tennessean