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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I slept in a room with flowered wallpaper and mauve carpet and a bookshelf next to a desk, although, maybe slept isn't the right word. I fell into a bed, behind my eyelids, and disappeared from the world in that room—too weary to dream about where I came from, or where I was going. In that bed, one hour turned into two turned into blankness until I woke with the dawn when the door latched.

With hardly a footfall, Mrs. Brown had left a tray of warm buttermilk biscuits, strawberry preserves, and thick slabs of good country ham on a tray next to the bed, though instead of eating, I turned over and watched the sunrise signaling the end of my overnight stay. Out the window, the neighborhood street climbed a hill, with gold crowning the peak like salvation. Promising that if I reached the horizon, Chicago was just on the other side—just beyond the place where day met night, just beyond the place where trees met sky, just beyond the place where gold touched pavement, my sister Rosie waited. The food cooled while I watched the sun come up from underneath thick quilts. Even wrapped in warmth, I could not shake the chill of two dresses, some underclothes, my weather-beaten hand-me-down shoes, all of Rosie's letters tied with string, a half-used ticket to Birmingham, and the unused dime for that Coca-Cola being everything I had in the world to complete a journey I never wanted to take. But without any better options, sunrise hinted that the horizon was waiting.

After a gentle knock, the door creaked again. A hand came to rest on my shoulder with the permanently curved fingers of a mama's caring touch. Mrs. Brown was a wisp of a woman, with acorn skin and sweet, smiling eyes. I thanked her for the food and the kindness of a place to lay my head and promised to get out their hair as soon as I visited the privy and washed up. Smiling kindly, tolerably, she said,

"You're welcome to use the restroom, child, and nobody is rushing you out the door."

The Browns were wonderful, patient, and over some days, the warmth of the parsonage steeped into me slowly. The house smelled of lavender and peppermint and had real wallpaper on the walls. Little cakes of soap were always nestled atop soft, thick towels in the restroom. Knobs for hot and cold called water from pipes underground to fill the tub, and Mrs. Brown used machines to wash and dry her clothes, beat her rugs. The house was comfortable and modern, and, I figured, everything Rosie must have in Chicago. Only, I was still in Alabama, maybe four stops into a journey I had not figured out how to complete.

Pastor preached the Gospel of New Jessup, chapter and verse. One day, he laid a photo album in my lap out on the porch. It was open to a round-faced man who was wiping a handkerchief across his sweaty brow with one hand and pointing a finger to the sky with the other. He favored Pastor, save for the gray hair all over his head that had just started creeping into Pastor's temples. Pastor Brown smiled silently at the pages, his gaze lingering on the photograph, enjoying a memory. Leaning closer, I read the faded newspaper clipping on the opposite page from the 1904 Tunnel Springs Star:

All community-minded Colored People willing to sow, and build upon, the soil of this state will find a welcoming respite in New Jessup, Gilliam County, Alabama. All trades taught, and professional class welcome, as we seek to leave nothing wanting in construction of our community, wholly adherent to the virtue of self-reliance. Work is plentiful, and land is available for purchase (outright or by work agreement) to those endeavoring to assist in the settlement of all-Colored New Jessup.

This is unimproved land waiting for strong men and hearty women to join in our efforts. Your ideas about town building will be valuable, as we seek to grow to more than ten-thousand Colored settlers seeking to call Alabama home. If you make suggestions that the community adopts, you will be given the opportunity to receive your share of the benefit.

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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