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11Feb

The 1619 Project audiobook by Nikole Hannah-Jones review – reframing US history

Slavery and the Black experience are at the heart of these essays, poems and fictional works, read by the authors, from Yaa Gyasi to Wesley Morris

What began as Pulitzer prize-winning journalism in the New York Times in 2019, and was later expanded into a book and a podcast, has made its final transformation into an audiobook. A collection of essays, poems and fictional works by more than 50 writers, The 1619 Project is a remarkable reframing of American history in which slavery and the Black experience are at the heart of the narrative. It traces the birth of a nation not to 1776 and the American revolution but to August 1619, when a ship arrived at Point Comfort in Virginia carrying a cargo of between 20 and 30 African captives, beginning a system of chattel slavery that would continue for 250 years.

Discussing the origins of the project, journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones recalls her realisation that the history taught to her at school had “rendered Black Americans, Black people on all the earth, inconsequential at best, invisible at worst. We appeared only where unavoidable.” Elsewhere, Yaa Gyasi, Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, Terry McMillan, Wesley Morris and Barry Jenkins are among those considering themes of democracy, capitalism, music, religion and justice, each piece given renewed power through the voice of its author. Among the many highlights is a section, written and read by Robert Jones Jr, about an offer of freedom to enslaved men in 1775 by Lord Dunmore, the royal governor of Virginia, in return for joining the British Army, in which the narrator wonders whether Dunmore is a man of his word. “Never safe to trust toubab,” he says, with profound melancholy. “If you remember the ship, if it didn’t take your mind from you, then you understand.”

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