This book is the only piece of literature to ever acknowledge the existence of Halls, Tennessee. Much like Tina Turner’s song, Nutbush, of which my aunts were the teachers referenced, her words were the saving grace of a rapidly fading place. This is more than a book to me. It’s a grimoire. It’s the knowledge of the lives my ancestors led, and it’s finally giving them the voices they have been consistently denied. I believe it is black girlhood throughout American history explained in poetry.
Pieces in this book extend as far back as my sophomore year of high school (2018-2019), but the bulk of this project was completed between March and December of 2020. In addition to genealogy research, I spent a total of 23 hours interviewing every female family member on my mother’s side via Zoom, as well as my uncle and grandfather.
To organize my findings I used several Google Drive folders and a series of color-coded envelopes to keep everything in order. I have a designated symbol related to WALKING that I added to the title of all documents in order to make them easy to search and organize. A major difficulty I faced was discovering how many of my family members were dead. This posed a problem because black communities often use oral history to keep track of records and stories.
Another was the lack of records kept in regards to the enslaved, as they were cataloged as property and were therefore rarely named in documents. It was an emotionally grueling process to search through the slave papers for my ancestors and even more emotionally taxing to read the last will and testament of their enslaver.
The interviews with some of the living older women in my family posed a difficulty, as many of them were in a state of mental decline. This work was completed almost entirely in my bedroom due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This work was overseen by my literary agent, Lauren MacLeod of the Strothman Agency, and my most notably, professor Learotha Williams of Tennessee State University. He helped me find resources about black history in Nashville and reviewed my works for historical accuracy.