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Ayana Mathis, photo by Elena Seibert
Ayana Mathis


NYS Writers Institute, December 3, 2013
4:15 p.m. Seminar | Assembly Hall, Campus Center, Uptown Campus

8:00 p.m. Reading | Page Hall, 135 Western Ave., Downtown Campus


Ayana Mathis, author the recent Oprah Book Club novel, The Twelve Tribes of Hattie (2012), about one family’s struggles set against the backdrop of the African-American “Great Migration,” will read from and discuss her work on Tuesday, December 3, 2013 at 8 p.m. in Page Hall, 135 Western Avenue, on the University at Albany’s downtown campus. Earlier that same day at 4:15 p.m., the author will present an informal seminar in the Assembly Hall, Campus Center, on UAlbany’s uptown campus. Free and open to the public, the events are sponsored by the New York State Writers Institute.


Ayana Mathis is the author of The Twelve Tribes of Hattie (2012), a widely praised first novel about one family’s struggles, set against the backdrop of the African American “Great Migration” from the rural South to the urban North. A New York Times bestseller, the book was also the second selection for Oprah’s newly-revived “Book Club 2.0.”

The Twelve Tribes of HattieWriting in the New York Times, Michiko Kakutani (who named Hattie one of her “10 Favorite Books of 2012”) said, “Ms. Mathis has a gift for imbuing her characters’ stories with an epic dimension that recalls Toni Morrison’s writing, … but her elastic voice is thoroughly her own — both lyrical and unsparing, meditative and visceral, and capable of giving the reader nearly complete access to her characters’ minds and hearts.” Pulitzer-winning novelist Marilynne Robinson, who was Mathis’ teacher and mentor at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, said, “The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is a vibrant and compassionate portrait of a family hardened and scattered by circumstance and yet deeply a family. Its language is elegant in its purity and rigor. The characters are full of life, mingled thing that it is, and dignified by the writer’s judicious tenderness towards them. This first novel is a work of rare maturity.” Oprah Winfrey said, “The opening pages of Ayana’s debut took my breath away. I can’t remember when I read anything that moved me in quite this way, besides the work of Toni Morrison.”

Ayana MathisIn 1923, the novel’s protagonist, fifteen-year-old Hattie Shepherd, flees Georgia and settles in Philadelphia, hoping for a chance at a better life. Instead, she marries a man who will bring her nothing but disappointment, and watches helplessly as her firstborn twins succumb to an illness a few pennies could have prevented. Hattie gives birth to nine more children whom she raises with grit and mettle, and not an ounce of the tenderness they crave. She vows to prepare them for the calamitous difficulty they are sure to face in their later lives, to meet a world that will not love them, a world that will not be kind. Captured in the novel in twelve narrative threads, their lives tell the story of a mother’s monumental courage and the journey of a nation.

Mathis taught fiction writing as a member of the visiting faculty at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in Spring of 2013, and will join the faculty at the MFA in Creative Writing program at the Writer’s Foundry at the Brooklyn campus of St. Joseph’s College in Spring of 2014.  She lives and writes in Brooklyn.

The Writers Institute encourages area book clubs to include The Twelve Tribes of Hattie in their fall reading selections.

For additional information, contact the Writers Institute at 518-442-5620 or online at https://www.albany.edu/writers-inst.