Brooklyn author’s debut novel is a ‘masterful meditation on race, history’
Brooklyn BookBeat: Writer to Speak in Fort Greene March 10
Brooklyn author Kaitlyn Greenidge’s “We Love You, Charlie Freeman” (March 8, Algonquin Books) is a gripping debut novel about a black family who moves to a nearly all-white town in western Massachusetts to take part in an experiment to teach sign language to a chimpanzee, Charlie, who will live with them.
Exploring themes of race, history, family and language, Greenidge, a Bread Loaf scholar and winner of the Bernard Cohen Short Story Prize, has written a thought-provoking racial satire that signals her arrival as a significant and exciting new voice in fiction. Renowned author Colum McCann says, “Kaitlyn Greenidge is surgically brilliant when it comes to the issue of race: She pushes the story into brand new territory. The novel does what all good art should do — it creates an appearance of ease, but then it returns to haunt and question us.”
Greenidge will appear at Greenlight Bookstore in Fort Greene to discuss her novel with Lisa Lucas of Guernica on Thursday, March 10 at 7:30 p.m. (686 Fulton St.)
When the Freemans leave their home in Boston for an apartment at the Toneybee Institute, they are excited about the prospect of having Charlie become a brother to teenage Charlotte and 9-year-old Callie. But the sisters soon feel incredibly isolated in their new town both because of their race and their unusual new living situation. When they also begin to feel like they are losing their mother’s love to Charlie, and when Charlotte discovers that this experiment is tied to the institute’s past experiments with eugenics in the 1920s, the new life the Freemans envisioned begins to quickly unravel.
Greenidge — who received her MFA from Hunter College, where she studied with Nathan Englander and Peter Carey and was Colson Whitehead’s writing assistant as part of the Hertog Research Fellowship — explains that her mother was offered a job at a research facility in Westchester to raise a chimpanzee and teach it sign language.
In addition to this inspiration, she says, “I had always wanted to write a novel about race as it lived in post-Civil Rights America. My first job out of college was as a tour guide for a black history site, and I worked in black history museums for nearly a decade. The heartbreaking, sometimes hilarious, sometimes inspiring conversations I would have with the general public about black history and black identity — often times with non-black people — were fascinating to me. I was particularly interested in the uses and failings of language to describe these experiences.”
Greenidge’s novel has earned rave reviews from critics and authors alike. Booklist calls it a “multifaceted narrative that challenges concepts of culture and communication,” while Bill Cheng, author of “Southern Cross the Dog,” says “Greenidge’s debut novel reminds us that it is an exciting time to be reading fiction. ‘We Love You, Charlie Freeman’ is a masterful meditation on race, anthropology, history, and the hurly-burly complications of family. Greenidge’s prose is incisive, clever, resounding with a deep intelligence . . . ‘We Love You, Charlie Freeman’ stands to be an important debut from an important writer.”
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