Likely Stories : Libertie, by Katlyn Greenidge

Jul 15, 2021

I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry.

Katlyn Greenidge is a spectacular young woman just coming out of her first novel, We Love You, Charlie Freeman.  She has won a Hodder Fellowship from Princeton University, among other awards.  Libertie is her second novel.

Libertie Sampson is the story of the coming of age of a free-born Black girl in Reconstruction-era Brooklyn.  Her mother is a practicing physician, and she hopes her daughter will follow in her footsteps.  The story begins.  Kaitlyn wrote, “I saw my mother raise a man from the dead.  ‘It still didn’t help him much my love,’ she told me.  But I saw her do it all the same.  That’s how I knew she was magic. / The time I saw Mama raise a man from the dead, it was close to dusk.  Mama and her nurse, Lenore, were in her office—Mama with her little greasy glasses on the tip of her nose, balancing the books, Lenore banking the fire.  That was the rule in Mama’s office—the fire was kept burning from dawn till after dinner and we never let it go out completely.  ” (3).

The next arrival came.  Greenidge wrote, “When it first turned onto our road, the cart was moving slowly.  But once it passed the bowed-over walnut tree, the three women at the seat snapped her whip, and the mule began to move a little faster, until it was upon us. / ‘Where’s your mother?’ / I opened my mouth, but before I could call for her, my mother rushed to the door, Lenore behind her. / ‘Quick,’ was all Mama said” (4).

Libertie continues her story, “‘When we were girls at the Colored School’—Madame Elizabeth leaned in her voice low, as if I was as old as she and Mama—‘I used to be so terrible at arithmetic.  But not her.  She was the best at it.  Oh, so quick! You’d think the devil was giving her notes.’ // ‘Elizabeth!’ // ‘But he wasn’t of course.  She was just so smart, your mother.  Smarter than the devil, but good.  But not all the way good.  Can I tell you a secret, my dear?’ // ‘Don’t listen to her.’  Mama went to cover my ears, but Madame Elizabeth drew me to her and held her close to her lap, and mock whispered, loud enough for Mama to hear: ‘Do you know what your clever Mama would do? She’d ask me to dye her ribbons purple for her.  Yes, even your good and smart mama wanted a bit of purple ribbon.  And me, being her best friend, being her kind Elizabeth, mashed up all the blackberries I could find and dyed those ribbons the prettiest purple anyone in Kings County had ever seen’ // ‘And extorted me and forced me to agree to do your arithmetic for you in exchange,’ Mama said” (11-12).

Katlyn Greenidge’s second novel, Libertie, is an astonishingly breathtaking and an extraordinarily excellent novel.  By all means, get a copy, because this is a work by a brilliant young writer.  8 Stars.

Likely Stories is a production of KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and happy reading!