Oprah's Favorite Passages from The Twelve Tribes of Hattie
The opening pages of Ayana Mathis's debut novel took Oprah's breath away. Here, she reveals the lines that moved her from start to finish.
Philadelphia and Jubilee: 1925
...Hattie wanted to give her babies names that weren't already chiseled on a headstone in the family plots in Georgia, so she gave them names of promise and of hope, reaching-forward names, not looking-back ones.
The sentence speaks for itself so eloquently. In this one sentence I could feel Hattie's hopefulness and anticipation for a better life, that she was claiming the future for herself and her children, a future that was shared by all who were a part of the Great Migration to the North which began around 1910.
All over Philadelphia the people rose in the crackling cold to stoke the furnaces in their basements. They were united in these hardships.
I love that line because it gave me a sense memory of the feeling you get when everybody in the community is united. I remember that myself from when I was growing up. I also remember leaving the community where we had been united and being surprised to later learn that we were considered poor. Because when you're united in your hardships, poverty doesn't feel so poor.
All of those souls, escaped from the South, were at this very moment glowing with promise in the wretched winters of the cities of the North. Hattie knew her babies would survive. Though they were small and struggling, Philadelphia and Jubilee were already among those luminous souls, already the beginning of a new nation.
Here it is again: the resonating theme of new life and new beginnings in the North. This sentence speaks not just to Hattie's hopes for her babies Philadelphia and Jubilee, but to everybody who held that hope in embarking on that migration.
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