Independent booksellers across the country have chosen Libertie: A Novel by Kaitlyn Greenidge (Algonquin Books) as their top pick for the April 2021 Indie Next List.
In Libertie: A Novel, Libertie Sampson knows her future: go to medicine school, return home, and practice alongside her mother, one of the first Black female physicians in the United States. But that’s not what she wants for herself–it’s what her mother wants.
When a young man from Haiti gives her a way out of Reconstruction-era Brooklyn, she takes it with the promise that she’ll be his equal on the island. But in Haiti, autonomy slips further and further out of her reach. As she navigates her marriage and place in the world, Libertie struggles to figure out what freedom really means for a Black woman, and where she must go to find it.
The following is a short Q&A with Kaitlyn Greenidge.
Where did the idea for this book come from?
I worked for many years at a Black historic site called the Weeksville Heritage Center. It’s dedicated to the history of a free Black community in Brooklyn. One of my jobs there was to work on their oral history project. I interviewed a descendant of Dr. Susan Smith Mckinney Steward, the first Black female doctor in New York State, and she told me this incredible story about her ancestor and her daughter. The descendant was named Ellen Holly–she is a famous actress and wrote all about this in her own memoir, One Life. When I sat down to write the book, I changed many details–including the time period the story was set in and other things as well. But that was where the idea originally came from.
Can you tell me about your writing process? What was writing this book like?
I’ve always worked at least two to three jobs, so I write whenever I can–I think it does a disservice to yourself and the inevitable changes that come with life to get too intent on a set routine. I had two fellowships while writing this book, which was new–one at Radcliffe, the other at Princeton. But I was also writing freelance while writing this book when at Radcliffe, and at Princeton, I had just had a baby. So my process is very much: write whenever you are able because life takes over quickly.
This story is centered on Libertie Sampson. How did you craft her character?
One of the things the book ended up being about was the emotional toll of Black Excellence–when you have bought into the lie that white supremacy tells you that you must be continually excellent and perfect and superior to even get basic respect.
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