by Jocelyn Nicole Johnson
Henry Holt & Company
A young woman descended from Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings driven from her neighborhood by a white militia. A university professor studying racism by conducting a secret social experiment on his own son. A single mother desperate to buy her first home even as the world hurtles toward catastrophe. Each fighting to survive in America.
Tough-minded, vulnerable, and brave, Jocelyn Nicole Johnson's precisely imagined debut explores burdened inheritances and extraordinary pursuits of belonging. Set in the near future, the eponymous novella, "My Monticello," tells of a diverse group of Charlottesville neighbors fleeing violent white supremacists. Led by Da'Naisha, a young Black descendant of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, they seek refuge in Jefferson's historic plantation home in a desperate attempt to outlive the long-foretold racial and environmental unraveling within the nation.
In "Control Negro," hailed by Roxane Gay as "one hell of story," a university professor devotes himself to the study of racism and the development of ACMs (average American Caucasian males) by clinically observing his own son from birth in order to "painstakingly mark the route of this Black child too, one whom I could prove was so strikingly decent and true that America could not find fault in him unless we as a nation had projected it there." Johnson's characters all seek out home as a place and an internal state, whether in the form of a Nigerian widower who immigrates to a meager existence in the city of Alexandria, finding himself adrift; a young mixed-race woman who adopts a new tongue and name to escape the landscapes of rural Virginia and her family; or a single mother who seeks salvation through "Buying a House Ahead of the Apocalypse."
United by these characters' relentless struggles against reality and fate, My Monticello is a formidable book that bears witness to this country's legacies and announces the arrival of a wildly original new voice in American fiction.
"Johnson's historically tethered story collection is startlingly timely... A compilation of vivid, complex stories, at times reminiscent of works by Octavia Butler, Ralph Ellison, Toni Morrison and Colson Whitehead, "My Monticello" is a startling, beautiful debut collection." -- Atlanta Journal-Constitution
"It is a rare breed of writer who can tell any kind of story and do so with exquisite deftness. Jocelyn Nicole Johnson is one such writer. Her debut collection, My Monticello, is comprised of six stories of astonishing range and each one explores what it means to live in a world that is at once home and not. She dissects the unbearable burdens of such displacement. The crowning glory of this collection is the title story, a novella about a world that has fallen apart and a small band of people who take refuge in Monticello, among the old ghosts of the former plantation, how they become family, and how they try to make a stand for their lives, for the world the way it once was. This collection is absolutely unforgettable and Johnson's prose soars to remarkable heights." -- Roxane Gay, New York Times bestselling author of Hunger and Ayiti
"There is a special pleasure in discovering a voice that is vital and unlike anything else you've known before. Jocelyn Nicole Johnson is such a voice. One that is necessary and brimming with both heart and imagination, Johnson's My Monticello is a beautiful debut work of art." -- Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, New York Times bestselling author of Friday Black
About the Author:
Jocelyn Nicole Johnson's writing has appeared in Guernica, The Guardian, Kweli, Joyland, phoebe, Prime Number Magazine, and elsewhere. Her short story "Control Negro" was anthologized in Best American Short Stories 2018, guest edited by Roxane Gay, and read live by LeVar Burton as part of PRI's Selected Shorts series. Johnson has been a fellow at Hedgebrook, Tin House Summer Workshops, and VCCA. A veteran public school art teacher, Johnson lives and writes in Charlottesville, Virginia.