Ayana Mathis And ‘The Twelve Tribes Of Hattie’

Breakout novelist Ayana Mathis and her raw telling of African-America’s great northern migration in “The Twelve Tribes of Hattie.”

Ayana Mathis (Photo by Michael Lionstar)

Ayana Mathis (Photo by Michael Lionstar)

Over six decades starting about a century ago, six million African-Americans made their way north out of the Jim Crow south in what came to be called the Great Migration. The move changed people and families and the country.

What was it like to live that move? To span that physical and cultural and psychological migration?

Novelist Ayana Mathis picks up the trail, the legacy, in a debut work that’s getting a lot of attention. One black family, a dozen kids, and a journey that’s still on.

This hour, On Point: Ayana Mathis and “The Twelve Tribes of Hattie.”

-Tom Ashbrook


Ayana Mathis, author of “The Twelve Tribes of Hattie.”

From Tom’s Reading List

Ebony “Ayana Mathis didn’t know that her first novel would catapult her to immediate success. After receiving a call from Oprah Winfrey that her book, The Twelve Tribes of Hattie, had been tapped for the media moguls’ re-launched book club, Mathis’ success seemed to be one that came to life overnight. However, few would know that Mathis’s road to success was long and arduous one as she struggled with keeping faith in her writing abilities.”

The New York Times “Hattie Shepherd, the title character of Ayana Mathis’s piercing debut novel, is at once a tragic heroine with mythic dimensions and an entirely recognizable mother and wife trying to make ends meet. Her story, set in 20th-century Philadelphia, is one of terrible loss and grief and survival, a story of endurance in the face of disappointment, heartbreak and harrowing adversity.”

Salon “It’s interesting. I should say that I don’t tend to write to theme. I write to character. In my own process and sometimes in others you can end up in a kind of manifesto-y situation, which is never the kind of fiction that I love best and not what I wanted to write at all. And so as it emerged, I began to understand, ‘This is about the Great Migration.'”

Excerpt From “The Twelve Tribes of Hattie”

Show Playlist

Work Song — Duke Ellington (from his 1943 jazz symphony “Black, Brown, and Beige.”)

Trouble Man — Marvin Gaye

Feeling Good — Nina Simone

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