Excerpt from Moonrise Over New Jessup by Jamila Minnicks, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Moonrise Over New Jessup

by Jamila Minnicks

Moonrise Over New Jessup by Jamila Minnicks X
Moonrise Over New Jessup by Jamila Minnicks
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2023, 336 pages

    Nov 28, 2023, 352 pages


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The moon rises and sets, stitching eternity together, night by night. Love-spun thread binds family when even years, or blue skies, stand between one and another's touch. Generations travel the same footprints, reach hands to the same climbing branches, and warm the same brown skin under the Alabama sun. Maybe "family" brings to mind only blood, marital relations, and it's easy to understand that way of thinking. But love by my hand tethers generations to generations, as well as kin by skin, in this place where all in me, and of me, can thrive.

Yet even the strongest thread will snap with constant tension and no slack. The heavens overflow with memories lost. So as life requires I hold taut and I give. In most ways, my people know, if, in some, they never will. But in all ways, my moon rises and sets for family.

So in eternity, the time had come for me to leave the home where I was born. The sun was setting and the half-bald red sweetgum around the fields announced November just a few days coming. But 1957 was still October-old when our landlord ended up face down on the ground for trying to drag me behind him to the toolshed. I was the last to leave the home house in Rensler: Daddy had passed a couple weeks before, and I had settled him next to Mama, though his burial left me scrambling for the rent. My sister Rosie was rooming with a nice family in Chicago, doing hair, and my need to keep a roof over my head had mellowed my worry to wonder about when her next letter would arrive. There was plenty of gleaning left to make November's payment, and then I'd scratch around for whatever came available to buy myself some time. I had never planned, or wanted, to leave Alabama. But with old man Todd shouting curses at my back, his face split open and gushing sweetgum-red, my plans to stay began to fade.

After sleeping a night at the neighbors, and an hours-long walk with the dawn, I arrived at the bus station with just my thrown-together knapsack. The man behind the counter assured me that my little money would carry me to Birmingham. Not Nashville, or Louisville, or Cleveland, let alone Chicago. Birmingham, he said. And no further. In those hours I waited on the bus to depart, the world came undone piece by piece. Unable to get to a place I never wanted to go, with ticket in hand to a place I knew not a single soul, first, the landscape flattened. Direction was next—north, south, east, west, all headed towards the unfamiliar. Then finally color, until everything faded to black and white. I rode the bus into this flat, directionless, colorless world, until it shushed to a stop in my new home.

Not that I knew it at the time, no. My ticket read Birmingham, and all I knew was that we had stopped somewhere between nowhere in particular and the big city. We had traveled a hundred country miles, or maybe ten. Stopped once, twice, four times—I don't know. I was huddled against my window, watching the world blur by as the man seated next to me kept up one-sided conversation about returning north after visiting with his wife and children down country. Somewhere along the way, he started worrying me about the brown paper bag on my lap, and the chicken grease soaking through to my dress, but that oily stain hardly ruined anything. The grayed threads had known color when I first sewed it. Red plaid. But that stain just turned light gray to ash, and ash gray to black, so somewhere near Needham, I offered him the chicken. He took it and finally left me alone.

We shushed to a stop and the bus emptied—some, getting off, hugging loved ones "hello"; some taking luggage from the belly of the bus; and most everybody stretching, smiling, and laughing underneath the blue-sky day. But the stops were all the same to me, so I stayed inside with my head against the glass, feeling the sun's warmth on the window. That's when a red-heeled shoe clicked its way up the sidewalk. Two of them, if I'm honest, though it wasn't so much the shoes that caught my eye, but the bronze stockinged legs inside them. They continued up the way towards a sidewalk café before disappearing through the front door.

Excerpted from Moonrise Over New Jessup by Jamila Minnicks . Copyright © 2023 by Jamila Minnicks . Excerpted by permission of Algonquin Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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