Moonrise Over New Jessup


By Jamila Minnicks

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$35.00 CAD

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"With compelling characters and a heart-pounding plot, Jamila Minnicks pulled me into pages of history I’d never turned before."―Barbara Kingsolver, New York Times bestselling author of Demon Copperhead

Winner of the PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction, an enchanting and thought-provoking debut novel about a Black woman doing whatever it takes to protect all she loves on Alabama soil during the Civil Rights Movement. 
It’s 1957, and after leaving the only home she has ever known, Alice Young steps off the bus into all-Black New Jessup, where residents have largely rejected integration as the means for Black social advancement. Instead, they seek to maintain, and fortify, the community they cherish on their “side of the woods.” In this place, Alice falls in love with Raymond Campbell, whose clandestine organizing activities challenge New Jessup’s longstanding status quo and could lead to the young couple’s expulsion—or worse—from the home they both hold dear. As they marry and raise children together, Alice must find a way to balance her undying support for his underground work with her desire to protect New Jessup from the rising pressure of upheaval from inside, and outside, their side of town.

Based on the history of the many Black towns and settlements established across the country, Jamila Minnicks's heartfelt and riveting debut is both a celebration of Black joy and a timely examination of the opposing viewpoints that attended desegregation in America.

Longlisted for The Center for Fiction 2023 First Novel Prize



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.

My eyes traveled from the café to the paved sidewalk to the row of brick-front shops lining the wide avenue. The sun gleamed from the white tile at the bus depot, and a polished chrome dog leapt over the door. But a couple folks—one, like me, and the other, nothing like me—looked around, unsure of what we were seeing. When the man seated next to me returned smelling of cigarettes and shoe polish, he urged me off the bus with a dime from his own pocket.

“Miss, our next stop ain’t for quite a while, and this here is a good place to stretch your legs. Why don’t you go on inside and get yourself a Coca-Cola before we pull off again?”

Before stepping foot to pavement, I hovered in the doorway of the bus. To the left and right, the avenue, the sidewalk, the storefronts, extended to the horizon in either direction. But reaching the front door of the depot, the Colored entrance was nowhere in sight. To my right, a shoeshine man chewed a toothpick while studying the shoe, and the polish, in his hands from every angle. Behind me, from the bus window, the man urged me through the door; only, the last thing I needed was to be arrested for going through the front just to buy a Coke.

“Help you, miss?” asked the shoeshine man. Until the words eased from his mouth, he’d done his level best to ignore me. With the weather-beaten hand-me-downs on my feet, it was no wonder why.

“I’m looking for the Colored entrance, please,” I said to the pavement, not wanting to be pegged ignorant of city ways and where they hid the Negro doorways.

“You won’t find one of them here,” he said. “Just walk in.”

“I’d prefer the Colored entrance. Please,” I insisted. He seemed an unusual man, perhaps a prankster of some sort, with the long limbs, triangular head, and bulging eyes of a chameleon. Just the sort to make trouble for folks and dart away.

“We ain’t got one of them because ain’t nothing but Negroes in this town, is what I’m telling you. Look around and see if you see any whitefolks other than these sorry few from the buses.” He smirked and returned his attention to the shoe in his hand, satisfied he knew the lay of the land.

A dark brown man sold bus tickets and answered questions inside while two soldiers in Army-issue khaki rushed past me: one, with the deep mulberry skin of the ready harvest, and the other, my same sun-gold cinnamon with dark freckles on his cheeks who placed a hand to his peaked cap. A light-skinned woman with a wild mane of bottle-red hair rushed into a yellow cab driven by a portly man of pecan complexion. He sped past an ebony police officer in white gloves holding palms up, meaning “stop.” A deep bronze man across the street wore paint-covered bib overalls, smoking a cigarette next to another bib-overalled man—cocoa-brown. And the family by the drink machine? The mama, she was high yellow, but her husband was a rich, deep brown to match some good, peaty soil. One child favored him, one her, and one fell to a brown somewhere in the middle. And that was just within those few feet of me at the depot. Up and down the avenue, Negroes of every shade came together like the dusk in a fall forest.

I should’ve been glad, relieved, to find such a sight on my journey. But my knees gave out and I sank onto the bench next to the shoeshine man. I buried my face in my hands and sobbed.

“Ain’t our folks’ usual reaction when they first arrive in New Jessup,” he said, patting my shoulder with the light taps of a man unaccustomed to comforting people. I stopped crying in time to wave the bus off, too exhausted to shed another drop.

“Is there a church house nearby?” I asked.

“Pastor and Mrs. Brown’ll take right good care of you up at Morning Star Baptist,” he said, and with walking directions, he sent me on my way. But after I took a couple steps up the sidewalk, he called out. When I turned, he spoke to the stain on my dress and the marks on my arm that weariness had me forgetting to hide. “But miss, if you looking for whitefolks, and I don’t imagine that you would be, but say you are? Well, you’d have to get all the way to the other side of the woods to find a single one.”

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.

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.”

We parked and hustled up Venerable Ave. towards a tan-skinned woman locking the door to the Taylor Made Dress Shop. Mrs. Brown started in right away, bragging on all my sewing. The woman looked me over from head to foot in silence; then she lowered her glasses and looked over top of them, inspecting me with a look practiced in finding flaws.

No, ma’am, I had not worked as a seamstress assistant. Yes, ma’am, I had just learned how to use a sewing machine. No, ma’am, I had no formal training. Yes, ma’am, I graduated high school. No, ma’am, I never worked with satin, lace, silk, or sequins. And yes, ma’am, I was new in town. She invited us inside, where she inspected my work closer. She needed not look at the tag inside the collar to know I had cut down a Vivian Taylor Laramie original. But she looked anyway, maybe to confirm that somebody had nerve enough to alter work created by her hand.

“What is your name again?” she asked my reflection in the mirror.

“Alice. Alice Young.”

“And you only recently learned to use a Singer sewing machine, Alice Young?”

“Yes, ma’am. Just a couple weeks ago.”

Her lips pursed in a little smile and she nodded at Mrs. Brown.

“Well, you’ll stand up straight, hold your head high, and enunciate in my shop,” she instructed. “You’ll be on time and dress the part. You’ll carry yourself with distinction, both here, and throughout New Jessup when you work at Taylor Made. Are we clear?”

I have no idea whether or not I knew I was home. What I knew, and wanted Rosie to know, and come see, was that this, too, was Alabama.


Didn’t matter that I was five, and Rosie six, when she promised never to leave me. Her words were full of the kind of truth only children can tell—bursting with the belief and imagination of an uncorrupted heart. And in devout adoration of my older sister, I believed her. Even years later, well after she thieved away in the night, I was grasping at the air she left behind.

She promised on the day when we made acquaintance with a sugar maple so ancient it invented sugar. Maybe it was two trees joined at the bottom—I never really knew why the two massive trunks came together in that V the way they did, but it called to us on a clear day as sheep clouds grazed across the sky. Me and Rosie were born eighteen months apart, some years into the landowners and bosses now blaming “The Depression” as their reason for their shorting my family’s wages. By the summer of 1940, me and my sister were old enough to know a weed from a shoot and fetch water from the pump, so we helped our folks doing field work—planting, tending, and harvesting whatever the landowners wanted in the ground. Mama also sold pies at O’Dell’s Grocery—the Negro store in Rensler—and sometimes Daddy delivered guano for a fertilizer dealer or cut timber. But mostly, we were in the cotton.

That day, me and Rosie raced through our noontime dinner because we were convinced the clouds were just low enough to glance the branch tips and turn to spun sugar. We meant to climb that sugar maple and get a taste. A middling climber by then, I knew better than to look down. Rosie scrambled up the right trunk, and me, the left, because I was smaller and those branches were closer together. As branches do, they thinned as we climbed higher until I reached one that creaked. I looked down. We were sky high and I froze, hugging the trunk tight and pouring water from my eyes. The sound of my own wailing filled my ears until Rosie’s soft, but firm, words eased in between my sniffles.

“Stairsteps going up, stairsteps going down, Alice. We got to come down from here.”

I refused and screamed when the branch groaned. My arms were more splayed than hugging the tree, and with Rosie safely on the other trunk, it would have been my fall alone. I looked down, wondering how the next branch had been so close coming up and was now a mile away.

“Stairsteps going up, stairsteps going down, Alice. We got to come down from here.” Over some seconds, her soft confidence warmed and soaked through me. Slowly, like the way a pat of butter melts over cornbread fresh out the oven. My eyes cleared, and the next branch down was, all the sudden, right there. Big and beefy and ready to hold me safely. Then the next one, and the next one was easier still, until bit by bit we worked our way to the ground.

About halfway down, our parents appeared at the base, shielding their eyes. Daddy had an arm behind his back. The forest around us was so quiet their whispering voices carried into the leaves.

“Great Jesus,” said Daddy. “You see this? You see your girls up there?”

“I see them, Marion. Be calm—they coming down.”

“See what I mean, Safi? Now tell me I’m wrong.”

“Nobody said anything about you being wrong. Mrs. O’Dell will take Rosie, but Alice just turned five a couple days ago.”

“She’ll take Rosie and Alice, is what I know. My daughters is going to school. They ain’t finna be mining nobody’s coal.”

“Mrs. O’Dell reminded me she’s nobody’s babysitter, and there’s only one of her. Teaching is serious business, she told me.”

“Like you don’t know that. She just got her back up because you wanna start your own school.”

“Well, whatever the reason, she said next year for Alice.”

“Alice won’t be no bother. She got just as much learning as kids Rosie’s age—knows her letters and numbers already. What difference do it make to Laverne O’Dell how old she is?”

“Well, maybe you should ask her then, ‘Brother Young,’” she said, in that near-breathless way Mrs. O’Dell addressed my daddy. For Mama, she always called “Sister” from the back of her throat and through near clenched teeth. “Because she certainly said ‘no’ to me.”

“Safiyah.” He drew Mama’s name out longwise to tickle her good humor. She gave him the closed-mouth, deep chuckle he was looking for. They finished their playfulness and stopped talking when me and Rosie got close enough that they thought we could hear.

The second my toenail kissed the earth, Daddy was on me. He snatched my upper arm, and before I could open my mouth to cry out, two lashes seared the back of my legs. Fresh dirt peppered the leaves on the ground, and it was only when he turned his attention to Rosie, who was trying to sneak away, that I saw he had yanked a baby sweetgum sapling clean out the ground, with soil still clinging to the roots. It was an indignity to survive death from a tree only to be whupped by a tree.

He quit after those few licks. We did not dare sniffle or cry or raise a word of objection—instead, me and Rosie spoke to each other in pitying glances as we walked behind our parents back to the rows. Mama did all the actual talking.

“You two should’ve known better. High as you were, me and your daddy would have been able to do nothing but watch you fall. All the ways this world’ll try to kill you in a tree, for y’all to be out here giving your lives away?” she said. “You won’t be out here doing the world’s work for it. Not as long as me and your daddy draw breath, you won’t. I bet you won’t do that again.”

Later that night, Mama had me and Rosie at the table for our lesson, when she told us that Rosie would start first grade the week following, and I would start school of some sort. Both of us would be in the same one-room outbuilding behind O’Dell’s Grocery, where Rensler’s Negro children from little to big shared one teacher and one classroom during the week, and Rensler’s Negro Baptists worshipped on Sundays. We were to work hard and mind our manners because we were going to college. My sister took the news without a thought, chanting absentmindedly as she worked through her spelling.

Firrrrrst grade, second grade, third grade, college!

Firrrrrst grade, second grade, third grade, college!”

But right away, BIRD stumped me. Side-by-side, Rosie continued working while I held my pencil straight up, the end pressed, unmoving, unable to arrange the letters in my mind or draw them on my slate. Because soon, my sister would be on the other side of a classroom, next to new playmates who knew all her same spelling words and math problems, leaving me to fend for myself under the black-marble glare of Thousand-Year-Frown O’Dell. A woman, me and Rosie had decided, whose cheeks drooped down the sides of her mouth like slid-down egg yolks. My inside laughter about her frown had allowed me to ignore Mrs. O’Dell anytime she teased me about blanking on my Easter speech Easter past. To ignore her in silence as she fed on my still obedience like candy.

Now, I would actually have to listen to what she said to me, when Mama was the best teacher in town. A, B, C, 1, 2, 3, CAT, DOG was scratched all over my slate, and I could even do some of Rosie’s figuring and spelling. But that night, my word was BIRD and the letters were like steam escaping my mind. After a couple of distracted attempts, Mama excused me and I went out to the porch.


  • “I was awestruck by its beauty, rapt by its originality, and astounded by its depth. But what astonished me most was learning that this is a debut. The craftwork is extraordinary. Was this book dreamed into existence? Did the Ancestors themselves place this story in the writer’s mind? From page one, I knew this work would transform me. It expanded the way I imagine what is possible in the art form. More than interesting, it is integral. More than important, it is inspiring. Read this book. Cherish it. Protect it. You must. Right out of the gate, Jamila Minnicks’s Moonrise Over New Jessup is a masterpiece.” —Robert Jones, Jr., author of The New York Times bestselling novel, The Prophets
  • "My favorite novels light up my brain with things I hadn’t considered before – and this one does exactly that. The deep complexity of the American Civil Rights movement; the various, sometimes opposing approaches of its leaders to desegregation; the gains and inevitable casualties that social progress can claim. With compelling characters and a heart-pounding plot, Jamila Minnicks pulled me into pages of history I’d never turned before."—Barbara Kingsolver
  • "Elegant and nuanced, Moonrise Over New Jessup is an incandescent work of art through-and-through, from a powerful new voice."—Jason Mott, author of National Book Award winner Hell of a Book
  • "An immersive and timely recasting of history by a gloriously talented writer to watch. You will fall in love with New Jessup: the town and the book."—Margaret Wilkerson Sexton, author of The Revisioners
  • “Moonrise over New Jessup is a tender and beautifully written debut that shines light on the untold stories of the women who supported the foot soldiers of the bourgeoning civil rights movement. Warm and affecting, this book will draw you in with its heart.”—Heidi W. Durrow, author of the New York Times bestseller The Girl Who Fell from the Sky
  • "Alice's voice, her witty, generous, keenly observant, utterly compelling voice, will be with me for a long time. And the world of New Jessup that she evokes -- not just her beloved, Raymond, and his family, but the whole community, each character so vividly drawn, from Miss Vivian to Patience to the ghost of Rosie, who hovers, for Alice, behind so much -- that too is now part of my lived experience, as well as their struggles to preserve the integrity and autonomy of New Jessup in a period of great transition, to ensure a fully independent thriving Black community -- it's a complex history I didn't know, and Jamila Minnicks brings it alive so powerfully. This beautiful novel deserves, and I'm sure will find, many readers."—Claire Messud, author of The Burning Girl
  • “No one who's read Zora Neale Hurston ever forgets her Eatonville. So too will Jamila Minnicks’s New Jessup live on in the American imagination as both a place and an idea. Moonrise Over New Jessup is a staggeringly beautiful love letter to Blackness -- particularly southern Blackness -- that celebrates the joys, sadness, and multiplicity of existence outside the white gaze. An absolute triumph, Moonrise Over New Jessup confirms a major voice in Jamila Minnicks, a writer everyone should be watching.”—Dionne Irving, author of The Islands
  • “The novel delves smartly into the distinction between the fight for equal rights and the fight for integration … Minnicks provides a nuanced and realistic portrayal of the personal costs of fighting for change.”—The New York Times Book Review
  • "An outstanding writer, Minnicks excels at capturing the atmosphere and issues of a specific locale at a particular time, the Deep South at the dawn of the civil rights era. This highly recommended title is an excellent choice for book discussion groups and would make a great movie.”—Library Journal
  • “A warmly appealing book debut” with “impassioned characters. A thoughtful look at a complex issue.”

     —Kirkus Reviews
  • “Jamila Minnicks has written an unforgettable debut, and announced herself as a writer to watch for years to come.”—Chicago Review of Books, "12 Must-Read Books of January 2023"
  • "A thought-provoking and enchanting debut."—The Rumpus, "The Most Beautiful Books of 2022"
  • “In an evocative and ambitious novel, Minnicks, a former lawyer, presents a fresh look at desegregation in Alabama… Moonrise Over New Jessup triumphs in its quest to offer a provocative perspective on racial justice, sovereignty and joy.”—Ms.
  • “Warm moments of Black joy are well balanced by the weighty tension threaded throughout this debut to create historical fiction worth picking up.”—BuzzFeed
  • “An enlightening look at Black communities in the 1950s and '60s that saw a better future without racial integration… Reading Moonrise Over New Jessup reminds us of the way that history gains a buffed gloss when we condense it into smooth movements. Minnicks' novel keeps us from losing sight of how foggy the path forward actually was.”—Minneapolis Star-Tribune
  • Moonrise Over New Jessup highlights an important part of history while exploring themes of acceptance, independence, and identity… Against the backdrop of a period of racial unrest in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the novel boldly questions the value of integration and acceptance if it means losing the comfort that separation has created… Moonrise Over New Jessup reminds us that history is not a monolith, but is experienced by individuals and communities in different ways, mirroring the conflict and contradictions of everyday life.”—Southern Review of Books
  • “A beautifully written novel that is heavily character-driven and slow-paced, while simultaneously providing enough interest and originality to keep readers turning pages.”—BookReporter
  • “Romantic love, familial love, and the love of place play out against the background of late 1950s – early 1960s civil rights era… A beautifully written exploration of just some of the variety of opinions within the civil rights era Black community on freedom, equality, and safety.”—The Southern Bookseller Review
  • “An absolutely breathtaking debut that celebrates Blackness in all of its triumphs. Both an in-depth exploration of all-Black towns and a love story all the same, Jamila Minnicks has written a stunning and poignant modern classic.”—Bookmarks, Winston-Salem, N.C.—Shelf Awareness, IndieBound
  • “A beautifully written, thought-provoking novel about courageous people at the cusp of historical changes. As compelling as the plot is and as intriguing as the characters are, the excellence of the writing itself should not be overlooked. This is an important book, well-structured with beautifully crafted language. Moonrise over New Jessup deserves a large audience.”—Southern Literary Review
  • "This is a beautifully written and thought-provoking debut."—Book Riot

On Sale
Jan 10, 2023
Page Count
336 pages
Algonquin Books

Jamila Minnicks

Jamila Minnicks

About the Author

Jamila Minnicks’ novel Moonrise Over New Jessup (Algonquin Books, 2023), won the 2021 PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction, is a finalist for the 2023 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize, and was longlisted the 2023 Crook’s Corner Book Prize. Her short stories and essays are published in The Sun, CRAFT, Catapult, Blackbird, The Write Launch, and elsewhere, and her piece, Politics of Distraction, was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Jamila’s work has been supported by the Sewanee Writers’ Conference and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.
Jamila is a graduate of the University of Michigan, the Howard University School of Law, and the Georgetown University Law Center. She lives in Washington, DC.

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