“She wore her body like a mistake she hoped to one day be forgiven for.” —The Star Side of Bird Hill
“Once in a while, you’ll stumble onto a book like this, one so poetic in its descriptions and so alive with lovable, frustrating, painfully real characters, that your emotional response to it becomes almost physical…[A] wrenching debut…The dual coming-of-age story alone could melt the sternest of hearts, but Jackson’s exquisite prose is a marvel too…A gem of a book.” —Entertainment Weekly
Who She Is
Naomi Jackson was born and raised in Brooklyn by West Indian parents. After receiving her B.A. from Williams, she studied fiction at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and traveled to South Africa on a Fulbright scholarship, where she received an M.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Cape Town. The list of fellowships and residencies she’s won is just too long to post here.
Why You Should Read Her Work
Naomi Jackson wrote that kind of novel, the one that makes you stay up all night reading because you tried, you really did try to go to sleep, but you couldn’t stop thinking about Phaedra and Avril and Dionne and everybody on Star Hill and something could happen to them while you’re away. It’s like that. The kind of gorgeously written book that doesn’t feel like a book but a displacement into another world, a world that is moving in time along with yours even as it moves to a slightly different rhythm with a different palette, different myths.
Jackson’s Star Hill in Barbados is as real as it gets and it still manages to be like a dream. A place where history (enslavement, rebellion, freedom) is alive in the present, where ghosts are as real as the mosquitos and sugar cane, but nothing like the things we imagine and call ghosts. Jackson doesn’t exoticize or magical realism this world into something palatable, but this isn’t the hard, hopeless story we’re too accustomed to (because, according to our culture’s overwhelmingly white male lens, if you’re black, a woman, poor, your story must be hopeless, tragic). The world of Star Hill is difficult and tragedy happens, but Jackson leaves these women and girls room for joy, for hope. And beauty. And mainly she leaves them room for each other. Even though their world is small, local, their story is epic. An odyssey. And through it she’s telling us things about our world, how much we’ve lost (each other) and how much we have to gain.
Where You Can Read Her Work
The Star Side of Bird Hill from Penguin Press (2015).
“Every Day Something Has Tried To Kill Me: ‘Being a black child in America means confronting the fragility of your life at a young age‘” a powerful essay up at Buzzfeed.
“The Perfect Covergirl” a wonderful essay about the painting on the cover of her novel and how necessary it was to the book at Lit Hub.