Monday, January 3, 2022

AFRICAN TOWN: A Cast of Ambitious Characters

 January's traits include: ambitious, practical, fiery. I'm the mom to a January baby, so I know these traits well! And they also show up pretty heavily in my new book AFRICAN TOWN, co-written with Charles Waters. (It releases tomorrow from Penguin Random House.)

AFRICAN TOWN is an historical verse novel in 14 voices chronicling the story of the 110 Africans who were kidnapped and smuggled to America in 1860 aboard Clotilda, the last slave ship. 

Timothy Meaher, the shipping magnate responsible for financing the venture was certainly ambitious...

and the Africans themselves were amazingly ambitious, practical, and fiery. In spite of the losses they endured—the brutality, the heartbreak—they not only survived, they thrived

Unable to return home to Africa, the community of shipmates post-Emancipation saved their money and purchased property (some of it from Meaher). They maintained cultural traditions, and they built for themselves homes, a church, and a school. 

Spending time with these characters, getting to know them so intimately, changed us, moved us, transformed us. 

What strength and resilience! 

What love and friendship! 

What hope and inspiration!

We're humbled to join the descendants in bringing to more readers this important, powerful story about their courageous ancestors.

Learn more about it in our interview with Betsy Bird and this National Geographic article. Thank you.

Irene Latham is a grateful creator of many novels, poetry collections, and picture books, including the coauthored Can I Touch Your Hair? Poems of Race, Mistakes, and Friendship, which earned a Charlotte Huck Honor, and The Cat Man of Aleppo, which won a Caldecott Honor. Irene lives on a lake in rural Alabama.


  1. I am looking forward to reading this one Irene! Thanks for bringing the story to readers.