Excerpt from Solitary by Albert Woodfox, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio


by Albert Woodfox

Solitary by Albert Woodfox X
Solitary by Albert Woodfox
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Mar 2019, 320 pages

    Dec 2019, 448 pages


  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Jamie Chornoby
Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt


I was born in the "Negro" wing of Charity Hospital in New Orleans, the day after Mardi Gras, February 19, 1947. My mom, Ruby Edwards, was 17. My father was gone. He left her, she told me, because she was from the wrong side of the tracks. We lived in New Orleans until I was five and my mom fell in love with a man named James B. Mable, a chef in the U.S. Navy. He was the first and only man I ever called Daddy. They got married and had four more children, a girl and three boys.

We moved six or seven times to different naval bases during those years. Daddy's job was to feed the crew of whatever ship he was assigned to. He used to take me onto the ships on weekends when Navy personnel were allowed to bring family. I remember walking to the edge of an aircraft carrier to see the water and he grabbed me by the back of my shirt so I wouldn't be blown away by strong winds.

I was a rebellious child. When I was seven or eight, I challenged my mom to a wrestling match. "I can beat you," I told her. "If I win you have to wear a dress all day," she said. It was the worst punishment I could think of but I agreed. She pinned me in a few seconds. I don't know where she got the dress but I wore it. At least I was keeping my word, she said. "A man ain't nothing without his word," she told me. I heard that my whole childhood.

For a while my mom was my world. Proud, determined, and beautiful, she took care of us. She couldn't read or write but she could add and subtract and was good with money; she could squeeze a penny until it screamed. Growing up in the Jim Crow South she had a lot of practice surviving on very little. When Daddy was on leave we stayed at his parents' small farm where he had grown up in La Grange, North Carolina. There, my grandparents grew watermelons, cabbage, corn, tobacco, and sweet potatoes. Behind the house was a chicken coop and farther back a forest where we picked wild strawberries. My grandmother loved to fish but was afraid of boats. I was the only one she trusted to row her out into the river, which, my mom being from Louisiana, we called a bayou.

My grandmother showed me how to clean and cook the fish we caught. She taught me how to farm. I fed the chickens and worked in the fields. I learned to drive a team of mules at a very early age. When we "cropped tobacca" I drove a slender buggy led by a mule that fit between rows of tobacco. The sides of the buggy were made of cut-up burlap sacks, nailed to posts that stuck up from each corner of the wagon. The women in the field broke off the leaves and laid them down flat in the buggy. When the buggy was full I drove it to the curing barn where women tied and hung the tobacco on sticks that were then placed inside the barn on racks. Once the barn was full the heat was turned on and the tobacco would be cured before being shipped and sold to tobacco factories. When I was nine or ten I'd hitchhike back and forth to a job at a tobacco factory in Winston-Salem, 170 miles each way. Sometimes the drivers would make conversation, other times they wouldn't. My job was to help roll the tobacco barrels to a scale. A lot of kids my age worked there.

When I was 11, everything changed. Daddy was forced by the Navy to retire after 25 years and we moved to La Grange full-time. He went from being a master chief petty officer, the highest noncommissioned rank you can achieve in the Navy, to being a black man living on a farm in North Carolina. Without the responsibility and respect he was given in the Navy, he lost his self-esteem. He started drinking and took his frustration and rage out on my mom. Daddy never hit me or my brothers or sister. He beat my mom. When he hit my mom, she screamed and tried to fight back, but she was a small woman. He overpowered her with his size and strength. We never knew when he was going to explode in anger and bitterness. Nothing warned us in advance how he would react on any given day so we lived in constant confusion and fear. One time he beat my mom so badly his sisters came around and told her they were afraid for her life. If she didn't leave, they said, he might kill her. My mom didn't want to go but some part of her knew if she stayed with Daddy she was in danger. Sooner or later the violence he used against her might be used against her children. She made a secret plan with Daddy's sisters to take us kids and run away. Because of her limited education and experience the only place she felt safe was in New Orleans, where she was born and raised. So, New Orleans was her destination.

  • 1
  • 2

Solitary © 2019 by Albert Woodfox. Reprinted with the permission of the publisher, Grove Press, an imprint of Grove Atlantic Inc. All rights reserved.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  The Black Panther Party

BookBrowse Sale!

Join BookBrowse and discover exceptional books for just $3/mth!

Find out more

Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: Wifedom
    by Anna Funder
    When life became overwhelming for writer, wife, and mother Anna Funder in the summer of 2017, she ...
  • Book Jacket: The Fraud
    The Fraud
    by Zadie Smith
    In a recent article for The New Yorker, Zadie Smith joked that she moved away from London, her ...
  • Book Jacket: Wasteland
    by Oliver Franklin-Wallis
    Globally, we generate more than 2 billion tons of household waste every year. That annual total ...
  • Book Jacket: Disobedient
    by Elizabeth Fremantle
    Born in Rome in 1593, Artemisia Gentileschi led a successful career as an artist throughout the ...

Book Club Discussion

Book Jacket
Fair Rosaline
by Natasha Solomons
A subversive, powerful untelling of Romeo and Juliet by New York Times bestselling author Natasha Solomons.

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Digging Stars
    by Novuyo Rosa Tshuma

    Blending drama and satire, Digging Stars probes the emotional universes of love, friendship, family, and nationhood.

  • Book Jacket

    The September House
    by Carissa Orlando

    A dream home becomes a haunted nightmare in this compulsively readable, twisty, and layered debut novel.

Win This Book
Win Moscow X

25 Copies to Give Away!

A daring CIA operation threatens chaos in the Kremlin. But can Langley trust the Russian at its center?



Solve this clue:

A M I A Terrible T T W

and be entered to win..

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.