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Excerpt from Wade in the Water by Nyani Nkrumah, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Wade in the Water

A Novel

by Nyani Nkrumah

Wade in the Water by Nyani Nkrumah X
Wade in the Water by Nyani Nkrumah
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2023, 320 pages

    Jan 2024, 368 pages


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Chapter 2

Princeton, New Jersey, January 1981

She wore a white dress, one of those pretty cotton sheer dresses. She had felt like wearing a summer dress today, but it was freezing, so she had it on over her warmest wool turtleneck and her thickest leggings. The dress was sleeveless, gathered at her narrow waist. Pearly buttons ran down the front of its length, just stopping short above her ankle. She was all fingers and thumbs as she tried to button it up quickly. She slipped on her black boots before stopping to glance at herself in the mirror. Her father, who preferred her all dressed up the older she got, would have approved of the dress, all southern and demure. But he wouldn't have liked the shoes, nor the turtleneck.

She never was one for mooning in front of mirrors, but she took a glance at herself out of habit. She knew what she was: nondescript. She had shoulder-length straight brown hair, brown eyes, and pale white skin that burned easily in the sun. An everyday person that barely afforded a second glance. She made up for that with a well-placed belt, or shoes, something that would cause them to take another look, if not at her face, then at the rest of her, which she knew was very well proportioned.

She would be late, and she couldn't afford to be. She paced up and down the tiny apartment searching, first for her black cross-body satchel, her coat, her journal, which she took everywhere with her, then her ruler and pens, and finally her watch, which she hurriedly shoved in the bag. She didn't stop to grab anything to eat but almost ran down the stairs, jumping over the steps two at a time, till she was at the bottom. Ten minutes of brisk walking and she was almost there. Relief at the sight of the massive dark brick administration building ahead of her slowed her down a notch. Two minutes later, she pushed through the large spring-loaded doors and immediately could hear them even before she saw them, a raucous crowd of students, the din of their excited voices filling the hallway. She joined the line in front of a long desk behind which sat four ladies, each busy registering second-semester classes, papers and books strewn all over the desk in front of them.

"Is Dr. Livenworth's class still open?" she called out, even as she stood eighteenth in line.

"Wait your turn," someone said behind her.

She turned and stared into a set of hazel eyes. It was an undergrad. Lank brown hair, needing a cut. She made an impatient gesture.

"What's so important about getting a class with Livenworth anyway? Heard he's a terrible grader. A guaranteed C or below."

She had no time for him. She ignored all the babies, or so she called them. Those eighteen-year-olds who were at least fourteen years younger than she was. She was a graduate student, but certainly older than most of the graduate students in her year group. She screwed up her face in concentration. She considered buying someone's spot in the line, but she had not thought to bring cash with her. She had to get into this class, The Rise of the Black Working Class in America. Her advisor had said it would help her as she began her thesis research on the impact of the black migration and the civil rights movement on southern society between 1940 and 1980. She had become more and more liberal since college, fully immersing herself in the diverse environment of NYU, where she had been an undergrad, and now at Princeton her friends were a mix of every race, creed, and color under the sun, as were her interests. It was deliberate, and her thesis topic was just as deliberate as everything else she had done since she left the hospital.

By the time she reached one of the registering ladies at the table, there was only one spot left in Dr. Livenworth's class.

She almost wept in relief.

Chapter 3

I looked down at the state of my clothes after the mud battle; Ma would surely give me a hiding. So I left my shoes at the door and went upstairs to wash. I changed, put my dirty clothes in a bucket and gave them a good scrub on the washing board, like Ma had taught me, before hanging them to dry on the line outside.

Excerpted from Wade in the Water by Nyani Nkrumah. Copyright © 2023 by Nyani Nkrumah. Excerpted by permission of Amistad. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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