Oprah’s Bookclub is one of the ultimate stamps of approval for any novel, and the newest edition to that esteemed list is Ayana Mathis’ debut novel, The Twelve Tribes of Hattie. Oprah herself has compared the former Brooklyn waitress to another esteemed African American author: Toni Morrison. Ms. Mathis entered New York University as an undergraduate, but only stayed a year. Afterwards, she did stints at Temple University in Philadelphia and at the New School. She never graduated from any of these places. She did however, join the prestigious Iowa Writers Workshop, which boasts of 17 Pulitzer Prize winning graduates.
Her debut novel chronicles the life and family of Hattie Shepard, who at 18 travels from Georgia to Philadelphia with her mother in search of freedom from the Jim Crow South in the 20th century. A few years later, Hattie is married with young twins. In the winter of 1925, the twins contract pneumonia and die due to lack of proper medical care. Though she has more children, Hattie becomes increasingly bitter with the negative turn of her life and her marriage. Hattie’s children remember the mistakes of their parents, but even as they reflect, are doomed to repeat them.
TheNew York Timescalled the book “astonishingly powerful”. This definitely sounds like a good book to read over the holidays. Mathis says she has no ambitions to be an author, but hopefully the success of this book will change her mind.