The Twelve Tribes of Hattie (Oprah's Book Club 2.0)

( 267 )

Overview

The newest Oprah’s Book Club 2.0 selection.
 
The arrival of a major new voice in contemporary fiction. 
 
A debut of extraordinary distinction: Ayana Mathis tells the story of the children of the Great Migration through the trials of one unforgettable family.

In 1923, fifteen-year-old Hattie Shepherd flees Georgia and settles...

See more details below
Paperback (Large Print)
$19.76
BN.com price
(Save 24%)$26.00 List Price

Pick Up In Store

Reserve and pick up in 60 minutes at your local store

Other sellers (Paperback)
  • All (20) from $1.99   
  • New (10) from $10.67   
  • Used (10) from $1.99   
The Twelve Tribes of Hattie

Available on NOOK devices and apps  
  • NOOK Devices
  • NOOK HD/HD+ Tablet
  • NOOK
  • NOOK Color
  • NOOK Tablet
  • Tablet/Phone
  • NOOK for Windows 8 Tablet
  • NOOK for iOS
  • NOOK for Android
  • NOOK Kids for iPad
  • PC/Mac
  • NOOK for Windows 8
  • NOOK for PC
  • NOOK for Mac
  • NOOK Study
  • NOOK for Web

Want a NOOK? Explore Now

NOOK Book (eBook)
$11.99
BN.com price

Overview

The newest Oprah’s Book Club 2.0 selection.
 
The arrival of a major new voice in contemporary fiction. 
 
A debut of extraordinary distinction: Ayana Mathis tells the story of the children of the Great Migration through the trials of one unforgettable family.

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. 

Beautiful and devastating, Ayana Mathis’s The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is wondrous from first to last—glorious, harrowing, unexpectedly uplifting, and blazing with life. An emotionally transfixing page-turner, a searing portrait of striving in the face of insurmountable adversity, an indelible encounter with the resilience of the human spirit and the driving force of the American dream.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Isabel Wilkerson
In a movement as vast as the Great Migration, there are so many stories buried in the ashes of memory, so much untold and yet to be sung that perhaps no book should bear the burden of telling it all. In the end, The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is less about the migration than about a mother's loss and the toll it takes on her and her children, their feeble attempts to escape their lives and the costs borne by every one of them. Hattie's family represents itself and itself alone. This deeply felt novel does not seek to tell the story of all, but of one that perhaps might have been.
The New York Times - Michiko Kakutani
Ms. Mathis…writes with uncommon narrative authority in The Twelve Tribes of Hattie, conjuring the lives of the Shepherd family with extraordinary psychological precision…[she] has a gift for imbuing her characters' stories with an epic dimension that recalls Toni Morrison's writing, and her sense of time and place and family will remind some of Louise Erdrich, but her elastic voice is thoroughly her own—both lyrical and unsparing, meditative and visceral, and capable of giving the reader nearly complete access to her characters' minds and hearts.
The Washington Post - Ron Charles
[Mathis's] prose style…is clean and transparent, and though she manipulates time and chronology in sophisticated ways, she never leaves us…in the dense mist of her private vision…Too many writers of literary fiction tend to stage intimate stories in the hermetically sealed worlds of their own clever imaginations, but Mathis never loses touch with the geography and the changing national culture through which her characters move.
From the Publisher
Praise for The Twelve Tribes of Hattie
  
“Piercing…Ms. Mathis writes with uncommon narrative authority in The Twelve Tribes of Hattie, conjuring the lives of the Shepherd family with extraordinary psychological precision…Ms. Mathis has a gift for imbuing her characters’ stories with an epic dimension that recalls Toni Morrison’s writing, and her sense of time and place and family will remind some of Louise Erdrich, but her elastic voice is thoroughly her own – both lyrical and unsparing, meditative and visceral, and capable of giving the reader nearly complete access to her characters’ minds and hearts…Astonishingly powerful.” 
            —Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times, “10 Favorite Books of 2012”
 
“The opening pages of Ayana’s debut took my breath away. I can’t remember when I read anything that moved me in quite this way, besides the work of Toni Morrison.”
            —Oprah Winfrey
 
 “Lush yet deliberate…elegant and sure…a complex and deeply humane story of a mother’s ferocious love and failures at loving…In the vivid specificity of Mathis’s tale, she is telling a universal story, and it is profoundly consoling.”
            —Laura Collins-Hughes, The Boston Globe
 
 “Mathis never loses touch with the geography and the changing national culture through which her characters move. The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is infused with African Americans’ conflicted attitudes about the North and the South during the Great Migration…In the long family arc that Mathis describes, the painful life of one remarkably resilient woman is placed against the hopes and struggles of millions of African Americans who held this nation to its promise…One of the best [novels] of 2012.”
            —Ron Charles, The Washington Post
 
“Raw and intimate…a brutal and poetic allegory of a family beset by tribulations…Mathis tempers the more operatic elements with tenderness and knowing glimpses into the human heart struggling to love…deeply felt.”
            —Isabel Wilkerson, The New York Times Book Review
 
“Mathis renders her characters with vivid strokes, and, like her heroine, she is both compassionate and unsentimental about hardscrabble lives.”
            —The New Yorker
 
“A triumph…a stone-cold stunner of a novel…magnificently structured, and a sentence-by-sentence treasure – lyric, direct, and true.”
            —David Daley, Salon
 
“The influence of Toni Morrison will be evident in this remarkable page-turner of a novel that spans decades and covers dreams lost, found, and denied.”
            —Elizabeth Taylor, Chicago Tribune, “Editor’s Choice”
 
“This brutal, illuminating version of the twentieth century African-American experience belongs alongside those of Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, and Zora Neale Hurston.”
            —Marion Winik, Newsday
 
“A poetic novel…that focuses less on American progress than on the small but powerful moments that are strung together, like beads on a necklace, to make one long strand of a family’s history…Like Toni Morrison, the author has a gift for showing just how heavily history weighs on families, as a learned sense of hope or despair gets passed down from parents to children and dreams die little by little, generation after generation. But if the endless heartbreaks sound melodramatic, Mathis earns your sympathy by making the rare moments of happiness feel simple and true.”
            —Entertainment Weekly, Grade: A-
 
“Visceral, heart-wrenching…Mathis brings considerable empathic gifts to the detailed realistic snapshots in Hattie’s family album, and to the sense of displacement that has contributed to generations of troubles and travails.”
            —Jane Ciabattari, San Francisco Chronicle
 
“Full of conflict and emotion…all of the chapters have moments of grace, despair, and hope and different characters will likely resonate with different readers. The range of emotion and experience demonstrates how a family can stretch out in every direction and then be pulled up by the taut cords of love, responsibility, hatred, hope, and support.”
            —Sessily Watt, Bookslut
 
“An intimate, often lyrical daisy-chain of stories capturing the telling moments in the lives of people who have been harshly and irrevocably marked by the circumstances of their birth…Through them, we understand the way in which dreams and despair are passed between generations. We feel the exhilaration of starting over, the basic human need to belong, and the inexorable pull back to a place that, for better or worse, you call home.”
            —Megan O’Grady, Vogue
 
 
“Brilliant…Mathis’ first novel is an unvarnished look at the complexities of race, poverty, family, and motherhood that calls to mind the great works of authors like Toni Morrison and Alice Walker.”
            —Baltimore Times

“Pulses with life and emotion…thrilling.”
            —Parade
 
“From the first sentence on, Mathis writes vividly and sensitively of one family’s journey and struggles over a lifetime, creating a stirring portrait of family, loss, and endurance in the twentieth century…a beautiful tapestry.”
            —Courtney Allison, Everyday eBook
 
“A stirring, soulful novel that spans 60 years and is told in many rich and varied voices. It’s the story of one formidable woman, and of her children—the ‘tribes’—at different stages of their sprawling lives. It’s the story of the Great Migration, and of its ripping, aching effects across the 20th century…The Twelve Tribes of Hattie wallops you from the first chapter, but the book’s emotional power grows with the story as the decades pass and the scope of this family’s life is revealed.”
            —Shelf Awareness
 
“One of the finest-drawn portraits of a family…These are tales steeped in race, a mother’s scarred heart, and a world where illness, both mental and physical, keeps threatening to steal souls away. The stories are emotional, sharp, poignant, and beautiful, made so by Mathis’ compassionate and layered storytelling and truthful prose, which ultimately seals each member to their family fold…characters who courageously forge forward in their quest for identity, love, and the American dream.”
            —The Dallas Morning News
 
“Masterfully written. Capturing a range of settings and time periods, from a Southern jazz club in the 1940s to a beach in Vietnam in the 1960s, each member of the family is rendered with subtlety and honesty…always authentic and alive.”
            —Lambda Literary
 
“Loneliness and hard-won grace pervade Ayana Mathis’ virtuoso debut novel…As her characters suffer and stray, she walks the fine line of treating them with compassion but never sentimentality…Mathis’ novel is about human experiences that we all share, about love and loss, and about the tremendous distances and inextricable bonds that form our families.”
            —Tampa Bay Times
 
“Hypnotic…evocative, ambitious…encompassing Dickinson, Morrison, and the poetry of Rita Dove…Mathis understands both heritage and craft.”
            —The Cleveland Plain Dealer
 
“Mathis’ writing is beautiful and confident; she moves from one voice and scene to the next with ease and creates rich characters and vivid settings. She gets to the heart of these people, gets their voices just right and gives each one a unique perspective and personality…Literary readers will enjoy the craftsmanship and emotional reach, and it’s a natural choice for book clubs with lots to talk about…It’s a beautiful work with more than a dash of heartbreak and hope.”
            —Boston Bibliophile
 
“An exploration of race, gander, and struggle…Mathis writes with power and insight. Though less lyrical, she is a more accessible writer than Toni Morrison.”
            —USA Today
 
“Beautiful…The Twelve Tribes of Hattie will break your heart, but give you hope—and illuminate the harsh realities of poverty, racism, and unmet expectations. It’s not an easy read, but it’s worth it.”
            —Examiner.com
 
The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is a vibrant and compassionate portrait of a family hardened and scattered by circumstance and yet deeply a family. Its language is elegant in its purity and rigor. The characters are full of life, mingled thing that it is, and dignified by the writer’s judicious tenderness towards them. This first novel is a work of rare maturity.”
            —Marilynne Robinson

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is beautiful and necessary from the very first sentence. The human lives it renders are on every page lowdown and glorious, fallen and redeemed, and all at the same time. They would be too heartbreaking to follow, in fact, were they not observed in such a generous and artful spirit of hope, in a spirit of mercy, in the spirit of love. Ayana Mathis has written a treasure of a novel.”
            —Paul Harding
 
“Writing with stunning authority, clarity, and courage, debut novelist Mathis pivots forward in time, spotlighting intensely dramatic episodes in the lives of Hattie's nine subsequent children (and one grandchild to make the ‘twelve tribes’), galvanizing crises that expose the crushed dreams and anguished legacy of the Great Migration….Mathis writes with blazing insight into the complexities of sexuality, marriage, family relationships, backbone, fraudulence, and racism in a molten novel of lives racked with suffering yet suffused with beauty.”
            —Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred)
 
“Remarkable…Mathis weaves this story with confidence, proving herself a gifted and powerful writer.”
            —Publishers Weekly (starred)
 
 “Cutting, emotional…pure heartbreak…though Mathis has inherited some of Toni Morrison’s poetic intonation, her own prose is appealingly earthbound and plainspoken, and the book’s structure is ingenious…an excellent debut.”
            —Kirkus Reviews (starred)

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780804121026
  • Publisher: Diversified Publishing
  • Publication date: 12/6/2012
  • Series: Oprah's Book Club Series
  • Edition description: Large Print
  • Pages: 410
  • Sales rank: 712,616
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Ayana Mathis
 
Ayana Mathis is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and is a recipient of the Michener-Copernicus Fellowship. The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is her first novel.
Read More Show Less

Read an Excerpt

Ruthie
1951
 
Lawrence had just given the last of his money to the numbers man when Hattie called him from a public telephone a few blocks from her house on Wayne Street. Her voice was just audible over the street traffic and the baby’s high wail. “It’s Hattie,” she said, as though he would not recognize her voice. And then, “Ruthie and I left home.” Lawrence thought for a moment that she meant she had a free hour unexpectedly, and he might come and meet them at the park where they usually saw each other.
 
“No,” she’d said. “I packed my things. We can’t . . . we’re not going back.”
 
They met an hour later at a diner on Germantown Avenue. The lunch rush was over, and Hattie was the lone customer. She sat with Ruthie propped in her lap, a menu closed on the table in front of her. Hattie did not look up as Lawrence approached. He had the impression that she’d seen him walk in and had turned her head so as not to appear to be looking for him. A cloth satchel sat on the floor next to her: embroidered, somber hued, faded. A bit of white fabric stuck up through the latch. He felt a rush of tenderness at the sight of the bag flopping on the linoleum.
 
Lawrence lifted the satchel onto the seat as he slid into the booth. He reached across and tickled Ruthie’s cheek with his finger. He and Hattie had never discussed a future seriously. Oh, there had been plenty of sighs and wishes in the afternoon hours after they made love: they had invented an entire life out of what-ifs and wouldn’t-it-be-nices. He looked at her now and realized their daydreams were more real to him than he’d allowed himself to believe.
 
Lawrence wasn’t a man who got hung up on ideals or lofty sentiment; he had lived pragmatically as far as his emotions were concerned. He had a car and nice suits, and he had only infrequently worked for white men. He left his family behind in Baltimore when he was sixteen, and he had built himself up from nothing without any help from anyone. And if he had not been able to save his mother from becoming a mule, at least he had never been one himself. For most of his life, this had seemed like the most important thing, not to be anybody’s mule. Then Hattie came along with all of those children, that multitude of children, and she didn’t have a mark of them on her. She spoke like she’d gone to one of those finishing schools for society Negro girls that they have down south. It was as though she’d been dropped into a life of squalor and indignities that should not have been hers. With such a woman, if he would only try a bit harder, he might become a family man. It is true that he had not met Hattie’s children, but their names— Billups and Six and Bell— were seductive as the names of foreign cities. In his imagination they were not so much children as they were small docile copies of Hattie.
 
“What happened?” he asked Hattie. Ruthie kicked at her swaddling. She looked very like him. The old wives’ tale says babies look like their fathers when they are new to the world. Ruthie was light-skinned like him and Hattie, lighter than August. Of course, Lawrence had not seen Hattie’s other children and could not know that most of them were this same milky tea color.
 
“Did August put his hands on you?” Lawrence asked.
 
“He’s not that kind of man,” she answered sharply.
 
“Anybody is, if his manhood is wounded enough.”
 
Hattie looked at him in alarm.
 
“A lot of men, I mean,” Lawrence said.
 
Hattie turned her face to the window. She would need money—that was certain—and they would be able to spend more time together now that August knew the truth. Lawrence could put her up somewhere. It occurred to him now that his choices were two: run from the diner and never see her again or become, all at once, a man of substance and commitment.
 
“I’m so ashamed,” Hattie said. “I’m so ashamed.”
 
“Hattie, listen to me. Our little baby isn’t anything to be ashamed of.”
 
She shook her head. Later that evening, and for years to come, he would wonder if he had misunderstood her, if her shame wasn’t at having a child with him but something larger that he didn’t understand, and if it wasn’t his failure to grasp this that had doomed them. But in that moment, he thought she only needed convincing, so he talked about renting her a house in Baltimore, where he’d grown up, and how they’d bring her children from Philadelphia and what it would all be like.
 
Hattie’s eyes were red-rimmed, and she kept glancing over Lawrence’s shoulder. He had never seen her so skittish, so in need of him. For the first time, Lawrence felt Hattie was his. This was not proprietary but something all together more profound— he was accountable to her, wonderfully and honorably obliged to take care of her. Lawrence was forty years old. He realized that whatever he’d experienced with other women— lust? infatuation?— had not been love.
 
 Hattie was incredulous. She refused him.
 
“This is our chance,” Lawrence said. “I’m telling you, we won’t ever get over it, we won’t ever forgive ourselves if we don’t do this. Baby.”
 
“But do you still . . . ?” she asked.
 
Lawrence had discussed his gambling in passing. He had told Hattie he made his living for the most part as a porter on the trains, which had been true for a few months many years ago. Hattie’s uncertainty made Lawrence understand that she did not take his gambling as lightly as he had supposed.
 
“I’ll stop,” he said. “I already have, really. It’s just a game or two when it’s slow with the trains.”
 
Hattie wept in heavy wracking sobs that shook her shoulders and upset Ruthie.
 
“I’ll stop,” he said again.
 
Lawrence slid next to Hattie on the banquette. He leaned down and kissed his daughter’s forehead. He kissed Hattie’s temple and her tears and the corner of her mouth. When she calmed, Hattie rested her head on his shoulder.
 
“I couldn’t stand to be a fool a second time,” Hattie said. “I couldn’t stand it.”
 
 
Hattie had hardly spoken during the four- hour drive to Baltimore. Lawrence’s was the only car on the highway— his high beams tunneled along the black road. Such a dark and quiet night, the moon was slim as a fingernail clipping and offered no light. Lawrence accelerated to fifty miles per hour, just to hear the engine rev and feel the car shoot forward. Hattie tensed in the passenger seat.
 
“We’re not too far now.” He reached over and squeezed Ruthie’s fat little leg. “I love you,” Lawrence said. “I love you both.”
 
“She’s a good baby,” Hattie replied.
 
August had named the baby Margaret, but Hattie and Lawrence had decided before her birth that they’d call her Ruth after Lawrence’s mother. When Ruth was nine days old, Hattie brought her to meet Lawrence in a park in his neighborhood.
 
“This is your father,” Hattie said, handing her to Lawrence. The baby fussed—Lawrence was a stranger to her—but he held her until she quieted. “Hush, hush, little Ruthie girl, hush, hush,” he said. Tears rose in his throat when the visit ended and Hattie took the baby back to Wayne Street. In the hours and days until he next saw her, Lawrence thought of Ruthie every instant: now she is hungry, now she is asleep. Now she is cooing in the arms of the man who is not her father. It was possible, of course, that Hattie was mistaken and Ruthie was August’s baby, but Lawrence knew, he knew in a way that was not logical and could not be explained, that she was his child.
 
Lawrence tightened his grip on the steering wheel until his fingers ached. “They never made a car better than the ’44 Buick. I told you it was a smooth ride,” he said. “Didn’t I tell you? I drove this car all the way to Chicago once to see my cousin.”
 
“You told me,” Hattie said.
 
A car passed in the opposite direction. Hattie put her hand over Ruthie’s eyes to shield her from the headlight glare.
 
“You’ll like Baltimore,” Lawrence said. “You’ll see.”
 
He did not know if she would. They were to live in a couple of rooms in a boardinghouse until he could get the money together to rent a house. A place large enough for all Hattie’s children would cost twenty-five dollars a week. Lawrence could make that money easily; he could pull six months’ rent in a single night with a couple of good hands. It wasn’t the money that made him nervous, though he was skinned at the moment.
 
“ ‘As the sparks fly upward . . . ,’ ” Hattie said. “It’s from the Bible,” she added.
 
“Well, that’s dismal. Don’t you remember anything else?” Hattie shrugged.
 
“Guess not,” Lawrence said.
 
He reached over and tapped her playfully on the knee with the back of his hand. She stiffened. “Come on, baby. Come on, let’s try and be a little bit happy. This is a happy occasion, isn’t it?”
 
“I like that verse. It makes me feel like I’m not alone,” Hattie said. She shifted away from him in her seat. “You’re going to pick up more shifts on the railroads, right?” she asked.
 
“We talked about this. You know I will.”
 
Lawrence felt Hattie’s gaze on him, uncertain and frightened. Her shine was going, Lawrence thought. There was something used and gray about her these days. Lawrence did not want Hattie to be a normal woman, just any old downtrodden colored woman. Hadn’t he left Maryland to be free of them? And hadn’t he married his ex-wife because she was glamorous as a rhinestone? It did not occur to him that he contributed to the fear and apprehension that had worn Hattie down.
 
He missed the Hattie he’d found so irresistible when they met— a little steely, a little inaccessible, angry enough to put a spring in her step and a light in her eye. Just angry enough to keep her going, like Lawrence. And there was another side of her, the one that yearned and longed for something she wouldn’t ever have— the two of them had that in common too. Lawrence took Hattie to New York a few months before she got pregnant. The trip had required elaborate lies— Hattie told August and her sister Marion that she’d been hired to cook for a party at a white woman’s place way out on the Main Line and that she had to stay overnight. Marion kept the children. Lawrence had not anticipated Hattie’s guilt, but it had cast a pall over their trip, and over New York City itself— or so Lawrence thought until the next day when they were driving back to Philadelphia. As they drove out of the Holland Tunnel, Hattie turned for one last glimpse of the city’s ramparts glowing in the setting sun. Then she slumped in her seat. “Well, that’s gone,” she said. Something in the New York streets was familiar to her. More than familiar, she said, she felt she belonged there. Lawrence understood. It seemed to him that every time he made one choice in his life, he said no to another. All of those things he could not do or be were huddled inside of him; they might spring up at any moment, and he would be hobbled with regret. He pulled to the shoulder of the road and held her. She was a beating heart in his hand.
 
Lawrence hardly recognized the distant, distraught woman next to him now. “You act like your whole life was one long January afternoon,” Lawrence said. “The trees are always barren and there’s not a flower on the vine.”
 
“It wouldn’t do any good to go around with my head in the clouds.”
 
“It would sometimes, Hattie. It sure would.”
 
He was responsible for her now. She might, he thought, at least try to be a little more . . . Well, after all they were starting a life together that very day, that very moment. Lawrence needed her steeliness. He needed her resolve to bolster his own. More was required than his charms and his sex and a bit of laughter and forgetting. He had to be better than August.
 
That bum. August was always out at nightclubs or at the jukes. Lawrence saw him once at a supper club where all the dicty Negroes went. August was on a date; he was all dressed up like the mayor of Philadelphia while Hattie was at home on Wayne Street elbow deep in dishwater. August could have gotten a decent job, but he chose to work catch as catch can at the Navy Yard out of pure laziness. A man had to be responsible. Lawrence was responsible. Whatever else he might be, he took care of his own. He had this Buick, didn’t he? Free and clear. And a house in a decent neighborhood. He’d kept his ex- wife in nice dresses while they were married and was still keeping her in them now that they were divorced. He saw his daughter once a week— didn’t miss a visit unless there was something really important, no, something damn near unavoidable. She was the picture of good health, didn’t want for anything. There were all kinds of ways to be responsible. Maybe he hadn’t made his money in the way most people would approve of, but none of his had ever gone without.
 
“You have to take some joy from the little things, baby. Look at this— fireworks!”
 
A gold flare rose above the treetops and peacocked into a fan of light over the highway. “Isn’t that something?” he said. “We must be closer to Baltimore than I thought.”
 
Hattie barely glanced at the lights bursting overhead.
 
“Hey,” Lawrence said, after a few moments, “do you plait your hair at night?”
 
“What?”
 
“Your hair. Do you plait it at night and tie it down with a scarf?”
 
“What kind of a thing is that to ask?”
 
“I just . . . I guess I just realized I didn’t know.”
 
“Oh, Lawrence,” Hattie said. Her voice quivered. After a long pause, she said, “I tie it down.”
Read More Show Less

Interviews & Essays

"None of Us Give or Receive a Perfect Love": A Q&A with Ayana Mathis

I adore Hattie Shepherd, the protagonist of Ayana Mathis's terrific debut, The Twelve Tribes of Hattie. I won't deny she's a bit trying at times—"distant and cold and unknowable" as Mathis says below—but I'm a New Englander (some might argue we Yankees have distant and cold and unknowable stamped on our bones), and here I am, writing about a fictional character as if I'd met her in the flesh.

The readers on our Discover committee adore Hattie, too, selecting the book for our Spring 2013 Discover Great New Writers list.

So it's no wonder that Oprah Winfrey adores Hattie, too, making it the second pick of Oprah's Book Club 2.0.

In this exclusive Q&A with Discover Great New Writers, Ayana discusses the profound changes brought by the Great Migration, what it feels like to be alone in a crowd, and her "hard to love" character, Hattie Shepherd.—Miwa Messer, Director of the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Program

What was your inspiration for the novel, why did you want to write about these people?

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.

What is the Great Migration, and what does it have to do with the book?

The Great Migration is one of the most enormously impactful migratory movements of the twentieth century. From 1910 to 1970 some 6 million blacks left the terrors of the Jim Crow South, often with nothing—a few dollars or just enough food for their journey—for the cities of the North, West, and Midwest. Their movement profoundly changed America—demographically, culturally, intellectually, and politically. I don't know that James Baldwin, Ella Fitzgerald, Thurgood Marshall, or other black luminaries of the last century could have developed their incredible gifts had they not escaped the boot of racial oppression in the South. And of course, now we have second and third generations of northerners, like Michelle Obama or Toni Morrison, the children and grandchildren of the Great Migration. My own grandparents were a part of that movement, as are Hattie Shepherd and her children. Certainly, Hattie's life in the North isn't easy, but she believes powerfully in its potential, if not for her then for her children. The book is very specifically about Hattie but she is also a symbol of the incredible heroism of millions of men and woman who faced the same ferocious odds, men and women who did not merely survive, but grew into a nation. Theirs is a very American story.

Why did you decide on this episodic structure?

I wish I could say that I'm a genius and had thought it all out before I wrote a single word. Nope. The truth is that I thought I was writing short stories. I was on the third one by the time I realized they were part of a novel; the structure was pretty clear by that point. That said, it works in a number of ways. The Shepherds are a Great Migration family, and so it's fitting that their story would span the decades of that movement. Secondly, Hattie isn't about family life in the conventional sense, I don't think I would know how to write a book like that. These characters were raised to be tough and self-reliant no matter what. The price of that independence is isolation, from each other, from Hattie and sometimes from themselves. I wanted to explore the idea of being alone in a crowd, of being so "strong" that you aren't able to ask for help though you're surrounded by people who could help you. In each chapter the characters are at a critical point, a life moment during which his or her strengths and weaknesses are most in play. (As in life, I think, we are most ourselves, or at least most raw, when everything is going haywire.) The episodic structure allows the reader to witness the characters in their critical moments, and then zoom out and move on to the next one. In a more conventionally structured novel I couldn't have all of the characters in crisis every minute, it's unnatural and would become tedious really quickly.

Also, I think of Hattie and her children as little lights, in the way lights twinkle in a city skyline at night. There is something about that twinkling, all of these separate lights that make something glorious when seen together, that was fascinating and very beautiful to me.

A line in the novel describes Hattie as "hard to love." What is it about her that's so difficult, and what does that mean for her children?

Hattie isn't tender. She's not milk-and-cookies, bedtime story kind of a mother. She loves her children deeply, but that love is shown through feeding them and clothing them and keeping them alive. And more than that, Hattie believes that part of her duty as a mother in the pre–civil rights era is to prepare her children for a world that will not be kind to them. She's afraid that too much tenderness will make them too soft to meet the difficulties they will surely encounter as they grow up. Of course, her children don't see things that way. They find her distant and cold and unknowable. They are all suffering from a kind of acute mother- want; they miss Hattie even though she's right there with them physically. I think the book is also about flawed love, as it is given and received. And isn't that everyone's story? None of us give or receive a perfect love. We, like Hattie's children, have to learn how go on with the business of living though we don't always get what we need, or what we think we need.

I was also interested in exploring the idea of strength. I think there is a tendency to understand strength as an all or nothing state of being. When we say people are strong we presume that those people, those heroes, don't suffer doubt and fear, that they aren't scarred in some way, or weary. Which isn't true of course, all of these things are part of being human. Hattie is most certainly strong, and enormously heroic, but she is also stern and vulnerable and angry. She's fully human, the good and bad. And the more complex aspects of her character are little hard to love.

—December 5, 2012

Read More Show Less

Reading Group Guide

1. Hattie is, by any measure, a complicated, difficult woman. Did you love her, hate her, find it difficult to have sympathy for her? Is she a good mother? Why or why not? 

2. Why do you suppose the author chose to have Philadelphia and Jubilee die in the novel’s first chapter? The novel moves backward and forward in time. What function is served by showing us this loss at the outset? How does this serve the novel and inform our understanding of Hattie?

3. “In Georgia the preacher had called the North a New Jerusalem. The congregation said he was a traitor to the cause of the southern Negro. He was gone the next day on a train for Chicago. Others, too, were going, disappearing from their shops and their fields. 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.” Discuss this passage in relation to the novel’s themes. In fact, Hattie is mistaken here; her babies do not survive. What does this say about the provenance of the new nation of which she speaks? 

4. Six perceives his spiritual gifts as an affliction, entangled with his physical suffering, and likens his moments of communion to seizures and fits. “What was grace if it came on him like a seizure that left him as frail and hurting as he had been before its visit? His experience of God was a violent surge he couldn’t control...if he’d known how to pray, Six would have asked God to take his gift away.” Elsewhere, he describes himself as a “ruined instrument” of God. What is your understanding of Six’s spirituality? Does he have the power to heal? How do you think the author views him, and what do you think happens to him in the future? Does the author provide another glimpse of him in the novel, and if so, what does she suggest about his fate?

5. In one of the novel’s most dramatic and revealing chapters, Hattie leaves August with the older children and escapes with baby Ruthie (then called Margaret) and her lover, Lawrence. How did this make you feel? Were you hoping she would stay with Lawrence or go back to August and the children?

6. “Lawrence understood her. It seemed to him that every time he made one choice in his life, he said no to another. All of those things he could not do or be were huddled inside of him; they might spring up at any moment, and he would be hobbled with regret. He pulled to the shoulder of the rode and held her. She was a beating heart in his hand.” What is at stake in this moment, for each of them? 

7. What do you learn in the chapter called “Ruthie” about August as a husband? As a father? As a man? 

8. Does August change throughout the course of the novel? Do you feel differently about him at the novel’s end than at the beginning? 

9. Discuss the disagreement between Hattie and August in the chapter “Ruthie” about Cassie learning to play piano. Cassie’s teacher agrees to teach her for free. Hattie rejects the offer, saying that “it wasn’t practical for a Negro girl to fill her head with music.” August feels it’s a mistake to take away her dreams. Who is right? Look in particular at their disagreement and at the passage on page 88 in which August ponders their predicament and the question of what it means to have “a better life.” What do you think it means, in this context, to have a better life?

10. What kind of marriage do Hattie and August have? Look at the scene in which Hattie returns from Baltimore. Were you surprised that August took her back, with, as he says, “another man’s baby in her arms? Anyone would agree that he ought to do something terrible to her, but she had been gone fifteen hours, and in that fifteen hours his life had crumpled like a lump of dry earth.” What has August learned in Hattie’s absence? Look also at the chapter’s ending, in which Mathis writes: “It was not an invite to embrace but a resignation, as if to say, here we are; this is all we have…There were too many disappointments to name and too much heartbreak. They were beyond punishment or forgiveness, beyond what they had inflicted each other, beyond love.” What does it mean to be beyond love? Consider as well Hattie’s confession in the chapter “Ella,” in which she describes “her body’s insistence on a man who was the greatest mistake of her life.” 

11. Discuss the scene in which Pearl and Benny are interrupted during their picnic by a group of white men. How did you feel about Benny’s choices? Does Pearl have a right to be angry? What do you think you would have done in these circumstances?

12. Reread the anguished scene in which Hattie and August give Ella to Marion and Benny. August tells Hattie, “We had that pain…and we’ll have this too.” Did they do the right thing? Was this chapter tragic? Hopeful? 

13. Discuss the use of point of view in the chapter “Alice and Billups.” Whose point of view did you initially trust in this chapter? How does this change by the chapter’s end?

14. Why does Franklin throw his letter to Sissy into the bay? Is this an act of cowardice, or could it be read as heroism?

15. In one of the novel’s climactic moments, Hattie and Lawrence bump into each other in a department store, and she discovers that Lawrence is romantically entangled with her daughter Bell. Why does Bell seduce Lawrence? What does she hope to achieve? What, if anything, does she learn about herself after her mother discovers her affair?

16. How is Bell different from her sisters and brothers? How is her relationship with Hattie different? How has her relationship with her mother defined her? Look in particular at the passage on page 212, in which Mathis writes: “Adulthood brought Bell a kind of freedom but no relief. She felt defective in some vital way, incapable of doing the right thing. She was constantly afraid that some force would strike her down for her failings.” Look also at the extraordinary passage on page 217: “Ruthie had said once that Bell and Hattie were just alike. It wasn’t true. Hattie was stronger than Bell could ever be. She didn’t know how to tend to her children’s souls, but she fought to keep them alive and to keep herself alive. That was more than Bell could say. All of them—Hattie and Willie and Evelyln and even crazed, ruined Walter—were like little lights; sparks flying upward in dark places, trying to stay alight though they were compelled toward ash.”

17. Race, poverty, history, class—Ayana Mathis speaks to all of these in The Twelve Tribes of Hattie and subtly complicates our understanding of the forces and conditions that drove political and social reform in the first part of the twentieth century. An argument could be made that the new North was built on the backs of Hattie’s children. Discuss this idea.

18. Why does Hattie refuse to let Sala take the mercy seat? 

19. Reread the novel’s final paragraph. Is this a happy ending or a heartbreaking one? Resigned, or hopeful? Did you feel differently about Hattie in the novel’s last lines? Has she changed? 

20. How do you imagine Sala’s life might differ from the lives of her aunts and uncles? What do you think the author is suggesting thematically through the character of Sala, who, although a generation removed, is Hattie’s essential twelfth tribe?   

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 267 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(92)

4 Star

(72)

3 Star

(42)

2 Star

(34)

1 Star

(27)

Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation

Reminder:

  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

 
Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously
See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 267 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 24, 2012

    Drivel

    I hate this kind of writing. There is no plot, no moral, no fully formed characters. There also are no redeeming features to this depressing drivel whatsoever. It reminds me of high school girls writing overly dramatic essays full of 'OMG!' That speaks to the depth of the novel adequately. Perhaps someday this author can find a true voice which speaks of joy, redemption, or lessons learned. Or, novel idea, tells a STORY! I admit I was caught by the Oprah hook, much to my regret. Readers, find a good book to spend your hard earned dollars on and give this author a wide berth until she really has something to say.

    22 out of 39 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted December 6, 2012

    I don't always agree with Oprah, but this one is definitely a wi

    I don't always agree with Oprah, but this one is definitely a winner. Grabs you from the beginning and doesn't lrt go.

    20 out of 20 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted January 9, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Life is not always what you expect.  When you make choices wheth

    Life is not always what you expect.  When you make choices whether to choose one thing or one person over another you belief that you've made the right choice.  The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is about sexuality, adultery, life, consequences, circumstances and choices.  In 1923, Hattie Shepherd, was just fifteen years old, when she made the decision to leave Georgia for a better life in Philadelphia to start a family and become a wife. Her life was hard, challenging and the decisions she made were based upon her in-experiences of life.  These challenges, as seen through the eyes of her children, caused them tremendous stress, dysfunction and unforgiveness throughout their adulthood. Her children did not fully understand that she too was young and inexperienced to make these types of decisions but Hattie did not fully understand that her inexperience decisions would cause indecisiveness in the development of her children.  A decision that Hattie made came back to haunt her years later through the decision of her daughter.  Ayana Mathis takes us on a journey to generational curses and how they can greatly affect the future.  

    16 out of 18 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 15, 2012

    The twelve tribes of Hattie

    I loved the book, but wished the characters would have been developed further. Did not care for the sudden ending.

    16 out of 20 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted December 15, 2012

    A very powerful first novel !!! Ayana Mathis has this incredibl

    A very powerful first novel !!! Ayana Mathis has this incredible talent to make the reader feel every ounce of Hattie's pain and anguish... it was almost like I was Hattie and it was happening to me....

    14 out of 16 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 19, 2012

    More of the same...

    If you like the type of story where everybody is miserable their entire lives and no matter what choices the different characters make then you'll like this book.
    I just don't see the point to yet another book where everyone's lives turn out horribly simply because the author thinks they will get reviews with words like "riveting" or "mesmerizing" or whatever else.
    The ending seemed like the author ran out of ideas and ended it abruptly.

    13 out of 20 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 16, 2012

    I can't even finish this book. It jumps around so much and make

    I can't even finish this book. It jumps around so much and makes no sense. I wish I had not wasted my money.

    11 out of 17 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 24, 2012

    Disapointed

    It caught my attention in the begining but it Never got to the point .. miserable doomed characters and a quick pointless ending.... boooooo

    9 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted January 18, 2013

    This is not an uplifting book and the characters are, for the mo

    This is not an uplifting book and the characters are, for the most part, sad and miserable. The beginning was good and caught my attention, but after the first few pages it was not as captivating. Wish I had just taken it out of the library.

    8 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 25, 2012

    Great read just disappointed with the ending

    I would still recommend reading this but wish the characters would have come full circle.

    7 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted December 20, 2012

    Personally, Ioved this book. Not a huge Oprah Book Club fan. Thi

    Personally, Ioved this book. Not a huge Oprah Book Club fan. This book, however, grabbed my attention and heart immediately and carried me quickly to the ending. Definite read.

    7 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 23, 2013

    I so wanted to love this book.   When will I learn that if Oprah

    I so wanted to love this book.   When will I learn that if Oprah puts her seal on it, odds are the book will be steeped in realism, which in itself is OK, but this one teased of an ending that would be redeemed by Hattie's humanity finally being explored.  I didn't need happy endings or anyone being saved, but the ending was just too abrupt with Hattie.s anger and sadness ending only because she was too old and tired to hang on to them.  The hours spent reinvested in reading the book feel wasted.  Surely, one of the characters would have c
    grown  to have at least 1 happy day in their  lives?  If so the book doesn't even allude to one.  Big downer!

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 11, 2013

    Why, Why, Why???

    Why did I buy this book, why did I read the whole thing? I kept hoping something positive or redeeming would happen, something that would be the aha moment of investing time in reading this. It's not there. Why does Oprah recommend this book?! Is she friends with the author?

    6 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 17, 2012

    While this book had lots of promise, it failed to deliver. The b

    While this book had lots of promise, it failed to deliver. The book doesn't flow smoothly. I found myself guessing who the character was. with each new chapter I would have to assume that it was one of Hatties children talking. It would skip back and forth and really didn,t flow.


    6 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 14, 2013

    You will want to know more

    I absolutely loved this book. I wanted to know more about each character's story. It was almost like reading a collection of short stories.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted January 4, 2013

    Highly Recommended!

    The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is a rare debut novel. The story is captivating from the very first page. I could not read fast enough to know what was going to happen next. I purchased the hardcover and the e-book as I was going on a trip for a few days and didn't want to miss any time I could be reading! Ms. Mathis writes like a seasoned veteran of the printed word. I truly look forward to her next work. Thank you Ms. Mathis for this special treat in fine writing.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 8, 2012

    TRULY ACCOMPLISHED. PLOT HAS TO BE CONSIDERED, BUT OF COURSE HO

    TRULY ACCOMPLISHED. PLOT HAS TO BE CONSIDERED, BUT OF COURSE HOW THE PLOT IS CARRIED OUT IS ALL IMPORTANT (GRAMMAR, CORRECT VOCABULARY. THEN TOO QUESTIONS OF HOLDING INTEREST ARE ALL IMPORTANT. THE NOVEL DOES IMMEDIATELY GAIN ATTENTION. iNDEED,OPRAH HAS PICKED WELL. BUT, NOW, LET ME ASK, WHY AND HOW ARE THE BOOKS REALLY PICKED ? THE NOVEL "CHRIS AND LOUISA" ON THE SUBJECT OF POLYGAMY, 125 YEARS OF US HISTORY AND THE RISE , WEALTH AND POWER OF MORMONISM HAS NOT BEEN SINGLED OIUT FOR OPRAH.]. THAT ISI ANOTHER AREA OF EXISTENCE OF COURSE, THE MORMON WORLD, BUT I SUPPOSE MY POINT IS THAT EXCELLENT BOOKS WRITTEN WITH CONSUMATE SKILL ARE TOO OFTEN OVERLOOKED.
    OF COURSE MY WIFE, JUDY, AND i WROTE CHRIS AND LOUISA.



    RALPH P. VANDER HEIDE

    4 out of 23 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 10, 2013

    Come on

    We all know NOT EVERY STORY HAS A HAPPY ENDING! I will give this book a try despite the negative reviews.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted January 7, 2013

    I'm really enjoying this book. You don't know what to expect wi

    I'm really enjoying this book. You don't know what to expect with each new chapter (tribe/child of Hattie). Each chapter covers one of Hattie's children. You have to read the chapter to kind of figure out what's going on and I love that it's not predictable. It's definitely a great read for a book club.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 5, 2013

    And then........

    A good book until the end. Well actually there wasn't an end.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 267 Customer Reviews

If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
Why is this product inappropriate?
Comments (optional)