Excerpt from Conjure Women by Afia Atakora, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Conjure Women

by Afia Atakora

Conjure Women by Afia Atakora X
Conjure Women by Afia Atakora
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2020, 416 pages

    Apr 2021, 416 pages


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Debbie Morrison
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The black baby's crying wormed and bloomed. It woke Rue by halves from her sleep so that through the first few strains of the sound she could not be sure when or where she was, but soon the feeble cry strengthened, like a desperate knocking at her front door, and she came all the way awake, and knew that she was needed, again.

She unwound herself from her thin linen sheet. If there were dreams, she'd lost them now that she'd stood up. There was only the crying, not so loud as it was strange, unsettling. She smoothed her nightmare hair and made ready her face. Stepped out from her cabin, barefooted.

At the center of the town, between the gathering of low cabins that sat close and humble, Rue could make out the collection of folks, like herself, who'd been drawn from their sleep by the haunting cry. Anxious, bedraggled, they emerged to suppose at that unearthly sound. It was a moonless night, the clouds colluding to block out the stars, and the crowd knitted itself tightly in a weave of black whisperings.

"You hearin' that, Miss Rue?" one of them said when she approached.

What little light there was streamed down from behind the crowd, hiding them, illuminating Rue. She couldn't make out their faces for the darkness but replied just the same. "Can't help but hearin'. That some poor sufferin' somethin'?"

As she walked, already she was holding herself straighter, prouder. It's what they were expecting. No matter how weary she was feeling on the inside, she knew she had to walk easy, like she were floating, same as her mama used to do. Rue's magic ought to be absolute, she knew, not come to them sleepwalking and unsure, or it wasn't magic at all.

"Never heard nothin' come close to that cry."

"Ain't no creature."

"That's one a' Jonah's li'l 'uns."

Rue knew they suspected already what child it was. That wrong child, born backward in a caul, a bath of black.

Jonah himself was opening the front door of his cabin and stepping out of it, and Rue did hope that Jonah, calm and right-headed, had come to silence the rumors on his child. But there was no denying that beyond him was the origin of the crying. Even his tower-tall presence in the doorway couldn't block out the menacing sound.

"Miss Rue," he called, and his voice was thin like river silt. "You there, Miss Rue?"

Rue did ache for Jonah's predicament. She answered, "I'm here."

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Excerpted from Conjure Women by Afia Atakora. Copyright © 2020 by Afia Atakora. Excerpted by permission of Random House. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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