Tuesday 8 August 2023

Rachel Eliza Griffiths, "Promise"


Rachel Eliza Griffiths is an artist, poet and novelist. Her recent hybrid collection of poetry and photography, Seeing the Body, was selected as the winner of the 2021 Hurston/Wright Foundation Award in Poetry, the winner of the 2020 Paterson Poetry Prize, and a finalist for the 2021 NAACP Image Award. Griffiths’s work has appeared widely, including in the New Yorker, the Paris Review, Best American Poetry, Tin House, and many others. Promise is Griffiths first novel. It was written for her mother who died in 2014 and took seven years to complete. She lives in New York City. 

About Promise

Set in 1957, at the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement, Promise is a luminous celebration of sisterhood, family, and love set in a village community in New England. 

Ezra and Cinthy Kindred have grown up surrounded by love; love from their parents, who let them believe that the stories they tell on stars can come true; love from the Junketts, the only other Black family in the neighbourhood, whose home is filled with spice-rubbed ribs and ground-shaking hugs; and love for their adopted home of Salt Point, a beautiful New England village perched high up on coastal bluffs. 

But as the sisters come of age, they are increasingly viewed as threats to their white neighbours’ way of life and, amidst escalating violence, prejudice and fear, must find new ways to celebrate their love and power, as the world attempts to strip them, and their families, of dignity, safety, and hope.

Promise is a story of resistance and hope. A rich, evocative and universal celebration of sisterhood, family, mothers and daughters, music, food, joy and love; it is also an unflinching exploration of race, class, identity and power, and the search for freedom and belonging. 

You can read more about Promise on the publisher's website here. Below, you can read an excerpt from the opening of the novel. 

From Promise, by Rachel Eliza Griffiths

The day before our first day of school always signaled the end of the time Ezra and I loved most. Not time like the clocks that ticked and rang their alarms every morning; we knew that time didn’t really begin or end. What we meant by time was happiness, a careless joy that sprawled its warm, sun-stained arms through our days and dreams for eight glorious weeks until our teachers arrived back in our lives, and our parents remembered their rules about shoes, bathing, vocabulary quizzes, and home training.

More than anything, we prayed that the air would remain mild for as long as possible, mid-October even, so that we could retain some of our summer independence, free to roam the land we knew and loved. We weren’t yet grown, but even the adults could pinpoint when time would tell us we would no longer be young.

We mourned summertime’s ending and made predictions about autumn and ourselves. Mostly we repeated all the different ways that summer was more honest than the rest of the year. It was the only time we could wear shorts and cropped tops with little comment from our mother. Ezra and I were allowed to walk nearly anywhere we wanted—in the other seasons, we needed permission even to walk to the village docks. And the eating! How we could eat! Mama loosened her apron strings about salt and sugar. Each day, it felt like we were eating from the menu of our dreams—fresh corn, ice cream, sliced tomatoes with coarse salt and pepper, chilled lobster, root beer floats, watermelon, oysters, crab and shrimp salads, fried chicken, homemade lemon or raspberry sorbet, grilled peaches, potato salad,
and red popsicles.

In the summer, the wildflowers returned, even in the village square. Arranged around a small pond with a handful of benches, some dead local official once believed the village square was a civil idea. Indeed, it would have been charming except there was the sea. Steps away from the square, down the narrow central passage of our village, the main street opened into a slender, shining pier where everything happened.

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