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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    Jan 2023, 336 pages

    Nov 28, 2023, 352 pages


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Upon arrival, enquire after Ralph Greene, Duke Royal, Clifford Campbell, Jenson Franklin, Isaiah Bell, Luke Morris, or Dayton Laramie.

My sleeve crept up while I read, revealing the sausage-thick bruises on my right forearm again. Other than offering aspirin and ice, neither Pastor nor Mrs. Brown had asked about the marks—or the way I was favoring my right shoulder. Now, Pastor's eyes locked on my attempt to pull my sleeve and hide the skin. He picked up mid-thought, as if continuing aloud a conversation begun in his mind.

"Because this town, you see . . . it was born of the swamp, from days of tribulation. But from tribulation comes perseverance, and perseverance, character, and character, hope. You hear what I'm saying, Sister?"

"Yessir, Pastor."

"That's my father on the page during his first sermon in the sanctuary across the street." He pointed to the man, then the clipping. "And this was the advertisement that brought my family here when I was a little boy. It was a long road to build that church. A lot of labor, a lot of nickels and dimes. When we pulled up in our wagon in 1904, there wasn't much to New Jessup but swampland and opportunity. Including the opportunity to thrive amongst our own community," he said, with a final glance at my wrist, now covered. "Amen?"

"Yessir, amen, Pastor," I said, and we never opened the door on my leaving Rensler again.

The address on Rosie's last letter had no telephone, so I wrote her with the same information, over and over, for weeks—news about our daddy and my whereabouts. Meantime, one day, walking back from the post box, Mrs. Brown showed me a large room off the church fellowship hall, where an explosion of clothing donations overflowed from the collection bins. No need to ask whether I sewed, she said, since all we country girls were born with needle and thread in hand. Some of the pieces were worn, needing repair, but there were plenty of store-bought, never-worn clothes among the piles. After a day or so, we finished separating everything and I asked for that needle and thread.

She sat me at a Singer instead. The stitches flew on that sewing machine, straight and even, through all sorts of clothes. Design ideas filled my mind with something other than the sunset-silhouette behind me, or the horizon ahead. I busied myself from morning until night, inspecting, patching, French seaming, reinforcing. I attached taffeta, ruffles on little girl dresses; gave little boy coats corduroy and flannel on the collars; hand-embroidered delicate patterns on the wrists and plackets of women's blouses; and reinforced men's dungarees to work plenty more shifts.

While sitting at the sewing machine one day, Mrs. Brown approached me with a wool skirt-suit sheening purplish-navy with a vtl tag stitched in the collar. The fabric was pristine, unworn, and it needed nothing but the right-sized woman to snap it up. Refusing my "no thank you, ma'am" and "I couldn't possibly, ma'am," she insisted I cut it down to fit me. So, over some days, I refitted it for my frame.

After around a month with the Browns and still no word back from Rosie, Mrs. Brown suggested I wear that navy-blue skirt suit for an outing, just the two of us. As the setting sun reflected red clay across the horizon and the clouds, we pulled into traffic on Venerable Ave.

"I'm sure you know by now there are worse places than New Jessup," she said as we sat in her Buick. "You still haven't heard from your sister, have you?"

"No, ma'am. Not yet."

"Do you have anywhere to stay once you reach Chicago? Or any money for a rooming house? Pastor and I can give you a little something to put in your pocket, but where will you go?" I shrugged. It was not the first time she had asked, laying the horizon ahead of me again that early December day—winter being the time of year that Rosie had described Chicago as "knock-you-down hateful" in her letters. "Well, till you find Rosie, or at least save up a little, what's say you stick around a spell? I have somebody I think you should meet."

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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