Black Surrealism, Freedom, Spirituality, and Survival

Kendra Winchester is a Contributing Editor for Book Riot where she writes about audiobooks and disability literature. She is also the Founder of Read Appalachia, which celebrates Appalachian literature and writing. Previously, Kendra co-founded and served as Executive Director for Reading Women, a podcast that gained an international following over its six-season run. In her off hours, you can find her writing on her Substack, Winchester Ave, and posting photos of her Corgis on Instagram and Twitter @kdwinchester.

Welcome to Read this Book, a newsletter where I recommend one book that needs to jump onto your TBR pile! Sometimes these books are brand new releases that I don’t want you to miss, while others are some of my backlist favorites. This week, I’m talking about a multigenerational epic that will sweep you off of your feet!

a graphic of the cover of Ours by Phillip B. Williams

Ours by Phillip B. Williams

Poet Phillip B. Williams has returned with his debut novel, a hefty tome coming in around 600 pages, proving himself a master in both poetry and prose. Ours begins in the 1830s, when a mysterious woman named Saint moves across Arkansas, freeing enslaved people from their “so-called masters.” Saint leads the newly freed people to a town called Ours, where they can live a free and peaceful life. Ours is protected from the outside world, and only those who already know it exists can return to it. Or so they think.

As the years go by, mysterious things begin to happen, and the townspeople begin to suspect that Saint might be the cause. As Saint grows more suspicious and controlling, the community of free Black people begins to wonder what they are paying for Saint’s version of “freedom.”

Williams possesses a brilliant imagination and understanding of storytelling. From the first pages, where we follow Saint freeing enslaved people across the South, we, the readers, are sucked into the narrative. During the lengthy excursions into the backstories of side characters, we’re still flying through the pages, just waiting to know what happens next. 

Williams uses his poet’s ear in crafting his prose, and the words shine on every page. Joneice Abbott-Pratt performs the audiobook, creating this transcendent listening experience. She smoothly voices the large cast of characters, performing all of their accents and bringing out their personalities. Sure, the audiobook is around 20 hours long, but I could have kept listening for hours more. There’s just something special about Abbott-Pratt’s performances that makes me confident that I’d enjoy anything she reads, and Ours is no different.

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