Twelve Tribes of Hattie: Ayana Mathis

I first read a review for The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis on Reads4Pleasure’s blog. Not long after, the book seemed to appear everywhere. Not to mention, Oprah selected the book for her Book Club 2.0. Here’s a quick summary:

In 1923, fifteen-year-old Hattie Shepherd flees Georgia and settles in Philadelphia, hoping for a chance at a better life. Instead, she marries a man who will bring her nothing but disappointment and watches helplessly as her firstborn twins succumb to an illness a few pennies could have prevented.  Hattie gives birth to nine more children whom she raises with grit and mettle and not an ounce of the tenderness they crave.  She vows to prepare them for the calamitous difficulty they are sure to face in their later lives, to meet a world that will not love them, a world that will not be kind. Captured here in twelve luminous narrative threads, their lives tell the story of a mother’s monumental courage and the journey of a nation. (Read an excerpt . . .)

After reading Warmth of Other Suns, that summary had me at “great migration.” When asked about her inspiration for the novel, Mathis had this to say in an interview:

I grew up in unusual family circumstances: I had lots of aunts and uncles, but my mother and I had very little contact with them after I was ten or so. My mother was always telling stories about the 1940s and ’50s, the years of her childhood and adolescence, and about her siblings. It’s as though I grew up with family ghosts, vague figures that weren’t quite real. It didn’t help that my mother’s stories were just the barest of snippets. As I got older, those stories expanded in my imagination until they grew to mythic proportion. In many ways the novel is my attempt to imagine my way into family and to understand where I came from, to give myself grounding and a context. The characters in the novel are also a part of my family’s wider historical context. Hattie’s children are the first generation of Great Migration children born in the North.

Great summary. Great excerpt. I’m adding it to my list. Happy reading, y’all.


8 thoughts on “Twelve Tribes of Hattie: Ayana Mathis

  1. Do you remember that author that said he didn’t want/need Oprah’s stamp of approval on his books? That was mighty big of him. I already have a copy of this book and look forward to reading it. I believe it’s number 4 in my TBR queue. I need to hurry up and finish Cutting Season. I think I have about 100 more pages.


  2. I think it was Jonathan Franzen who said he didn’t want/need Oprah’s stamp of approval. I think he’s just a bit of a literary snob. He soon came around because he did go on Oprah’s show for Freedom. There he appeared to be humble. Good writer but lacking social skills on that one. As for Twelve Tribes of Hattie it sounds like a great read and I’ll definitely be adding it to my TBR list on Goodreads.


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