‘Petry is the writer we have been waiting for, hers are the stories we need to fully illuminate the questions of our moment, while also offering a page-turning good time. Ann Petry, the woman, had it all, and so does her insightful, prescient and unputdownable prose . . . The Narrows is the story of a doomed interracial romance that proves that passion and prejudice are not mutually exclusive’ Tayari Jones, New York Times
From the author of The Street, as heard on BBC Radio 4’s Book at Bedtime
Link Williams is a handsome and brilliant Dartmouth graduate who tends bar due to the lack of better opportunities for an African American man in a mid-century Connecticut town. The routine of Link’s life is interrupted when he intervenes to save a woman from a late-night attack. Due to the thick fog rolling in from the river, they cannot easily discern each other, so it is only when they enter a bar for a drink that Camillo sees her rescuer is black and Link learns that the woman is white. Camilo (Camilla Treadway Sheffield) is beautiful, wealthy and married: she has crossed the town’s racial divide to relieve the tedium of her life. Brought together by chance, Link and Camilo draw each other into furtive encounters that violate the rigid and uncompromising social codes of their times.
Surrounded by a family notable for its size, eccentricity and marital irregularities, Letty grows up with only one aim in mind – marriage. For Letty learns that, for a woman, social survival depends on winning and keeping a man. Amidst the bustle of life in New York and London in the 30s and 40s, she relentlessly pursues her aim. An outrageous emotional and sexual experimenter, sustained always by an indomitable sense of humour and a wonderful eye for the main chance, Letty pursues one relationship after another, until her luck finally turns.
She wondered if, when human souls try to get too near each other, they do not inevitably become mere blurs to each other’s vision.’
Susy Branch learned early that to thrive without money in a society driven by wealth one must dissemble, flatter and sometimes even drop one’s moral guard in order to share a little of one’s host’s luxury and leisure. Nick Lansing has also learned and wearied of the same lesson. Despite the foolishness of their romance – for each should be seeking a partner of means – they decide to marry. By combining their skills they should be able to enjoy a year’s invitations and happiness before they need face reality. But love makes its own exacting demands and its costs can also be high . . .
With a new introduction by TAYARI JONES, author of An American Marriage and winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2019 * As heard on BBC Radio 4’s Book at Bedtime
‘Ann Petry’s first novel, The Street, was a literary event in 1946, praised and translated around the world – the first book by a black woman to sell more than a million copies . . . Her work endures not merely because of the strength of its message but its artistry’ NEW YORK TIMES
‘My favorite type of novel, literary with an astonishing plot . . . insightful, prescient and unputdownable’ TAYARI JONES
New York City, 1940s. In a crumbling tenement in Harlem, Lutie Johnson is determined to build a new life for herself and her eight-year-old boy, Bub – a life that she can be proud of. Having left her unreliable husband, Lutie believes that with hard work and resolve, she can begin again; she has faith in the American dream. But in her struggle to earn money and raise her son amid the violence, poverty and racial dissonance of her surroundings, Lutie is soon trapped: she is a woman alone, ‘too good-looking to be decent’, with predators at every turn.
This collection of wartime stories includes some of the finest writers of a generation. War had traditionally been seen as a masculine occupation, but these stories show how women were equal if different participants. Here, war is less about progress on the frontline of battle than about the daily struggle to keep homes, families and relationships alive; to snatch pleasure from danger, and strength from shared experience. The stories are about saying goodbye to husbands, lovers, brothers and sons – and sometimes years later trying to remake their lives anew. By turn comical, stoical, compassionate, angry and subversive, these intensely individual voices bring a human dimension to the momentous events that reverberated around them and each opens a window on to a hidden landscape of war.
Writers include: Jean Rhys, Beryl Bainbridge, Elizabeth Bowen, Elizabeth Taylor, Stevie Smith, Rosamond Lehmann, Barbara Pym, Angela Thirkell, Sylvia Townsend Warner, Dorothy Parker, Doris Lessing, Olivia Manning, Rose Macaulay and Stevie Smith
‘No novel about any black woman could ever be the same after this’ TONI MORRISON
‘Corregidora is the most brutally honest and painful revelation of what has occurred, and is occurring, in the souls of Black men and women’ JAMES BALDWIN
Upon publication in 1975, Corregidora was hailed as a masterpiece, winning acclaim from writers including James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison and John Updike. Exploring themes such as race, sexuality and the long repercussions of slavery, this powerful novel paved the way for Beloved and The Colour Purple. Now, this lost classic is published for a new generation of readers.
Blues singer Ursa is consumed by her hatred of Corregidora, the nineteenth-century slave master who fathered both her mother and grandmother. Charged with ‘making generations’ to bear witness to the abuse embodied in the family name, Ursa Corregidora finds herself unable to keep alive this legacy when she is made sterile in a violent fight with her husband. Haunted by the ghosts of a Brazilian plantation, pained by a present of lovelessness and despair, Ursa slowly and firmly strikes her own terms with womanhood.
AS HEARD ON THE BACKLISTED PODCAST
‘A literary giant, and one of my absolute favourite writers’ TAYARI JONES, author of AN AMERICAN MARRIAGE
Also new to the VMC list: Eva’s Man and The Healing by Gayl Jones.
‘An American writer with a powerful sense of vital inheritance, of history in the blood’ JOHN UPDIKE
‘Gayl Jones’s first novel, Corregidora (1975), was both shocking and ground-breaking in its probing of the psychological legacy of slavery and sexual ownership through the life of a Kentucky blues singer … it predated Alice Walker’s The Color Purple and Toni Morrison’s Beloved, revealing an unfinished emancipation and the power of historical memory to shape lives. It also marked a shift in African-American literature that made women, and relationships between black people, central’ MAYA JAGGI, Guardian
‘Corregidora‘s survey of trauma and overcoming has become even better and more relevant with the passage of time. It remains an indispensable point of entry into the tradition of African American writing that Gayl Jones reshaped and enriched’ PAUL GILROY
‘A literary giant, and one of my absolute favourite writers’ TAYARI JONES, author of AN AMERICAN MARRIAGE
Eva Medina Canada sits in her psychiatric ward, silent and unremorseful. She has murdered her lover and they want to know why. Her memories weave back and forth over encounters with the men in her life – the schoolboy who played doctors and nurses with a dirty popsicle stick; her mother’s boyfriend; her cousin; her husband; a stranger on the bus. She’s been propositioned and abused for as long as she can remember.
‘Corregidora was a small, fiercely concentrated story, harsh and perfectly told . . . Original, superbly imagined, nothing about the book was simple or easily digested. Out of the worn themes of miscegenation and diminishment, Gayl Jones excavated the disturbingly buried damage of racism. Eva’s Man is a deepened exploration of the woman’s inner life; of the pressures, the cruelties, the imposed expectations’
Darryl Pinckney, The New Republic
‘Gayl Jones is one furious, lacerating writer. You don’t read her easily, and you can’t forget her at all . . . Hyper-real and traumatic as this novel is, it’s one that’s been waiting to be written since Samuel Richardson gave us the male point of view of Clarissa, that other fallen woman whose only acceptable alternative to ravishment was death. Eva’s silence, and her status here as legally insane, are eloquent testimony to the condition of being a woman in this man’s world’ Kirkus
‘A writer of huge compassion and acute observation, and also of dazzling style . . . Her work is more relevant than ever’ DIANA EVANS
An incredible collection of writing – both essays and short stories – spanning the long career of Dorothy West. Includes a new introduction by Diana Evans.
‘West’s work is timelessly cinematic, with painterly visual descriptions and pitch-perfect dialogue that ranges across class, region, race, age, and gender’ Emma Garman, Paris Review
The stories contained here are as American as jazz, and as wise and multifaceted as their writer. Dorothy West’s metier is the unique crucible in which America places its black middle class, but her themes are universal: the daily misunderstandings between young and old, men and women, rich and poor that can lead to tragedy; and the ways in which bonds of family and community can bring us together, and tear us asunder.
Dorothy West’s autobiographical essays explore the poles of her remarkable life – from growing up black and middle-class in Boston to her near-mythic trip to Moscow in 1933 with Langston Hughes and other Harlem Renaissance writers to life on her beloved Martha’s Vineyard. They cohere into a beautiful and poignant memoir of a singular American life, a memoir that communicates with her short stories in a host of fertile ways. Taken as a whole, The Richer, The Poorer is a triumphant celebration of the long life and work of one of America’s genuine treasures.
With a new introduction by DIANA EVANS
‘A writer of huge compassion and acute observation, and also of dazzling style . . . Her work is more relevant than ever’ Diana Evans
‘Timelessly cinematic, with painterly visual descriptions and pitch-perfect dialogue that ranges across class, region, race, age, and gender’ Emma Garman, Paris Review
Set on a bucolic Martha’s Vineyard in the 1950s, The Wedding tells the story of life in the Oval, a proud, insular community made up of the best and brightest of the East Coast’s black bourgeoisie. Within this inner circle of ‘blue-vein society’, we witness the prominent Coles family gather for the wedding of their loveliest daughter, Shelby, who could have chosen from ‘a whole area of eligible men of the right colors and the right professions.’ Instead, she has fallen in love with and is about to be married to Mead Wyler, a white jazz musician from New York. A shock wave breaks over the Oval as its longtime members grapple with the changing face of its community.
Not just the story of one wedding, but of many, this compelling story offers insights into issues of race, prejudice and identity while maintaining its firm belief in the compensatory power of love.
Through a delicate interweaving of past and present, North and South, black and white, The Wedding unfolds outward from a single isolated time and place until it embraces five generations of an extraordinary American family. It is an audacious accomplishment, a monumental history of the rise of a black middle class, written by a writer who lived it. Wise, heartfelt, and shattering, it is Dorothy West’s crowning achievement.
A powerful novel of love between women, THE WELL OF LONELINESS brought about the most famous legal trial for obscenity in the history of British law. Banned on publication in 1928, it then went on to become a classic bestseller.
‘The archetypal lesbian novel’ – TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT
‘The bible of lesbianism’ – THE TIMES
‘One of the first and most influential contributions of gay and lesbian literature’ – NEW STATESMAN
‘What do I care for the world’s opinion? What do I care for anything but you!’
Stephen Gordon (named by a father desperate for a son) is not like other girls: she hunts, she fences, she reads books, wears trousers and longs to cut her hair.
As she grows up amidst the stifling grandeur of Morton Hall, the locals begin to draw away from her, aware of some indefinable thing that sets her apart. And when Stephen Gordon reaches maturity, she falls passionately in love with another woman.
Introduced by Diana Souhami, author of the acclaimed biography The Trials of Radclyffe Hall