Benjamin Banneker and Us: Eleven Generations of an American Family

Blackstone Audio. Mar. 2023. 12:01 hrs. ISBN 9798212339667. $22.95. BIOG
Poet Webster (Mary Is a River) brings a lyrical style to her prose and her performance of this extraordinary work of creative nonfiction centering on the life of polymath Benjamin Banneker. A free Black man, Banneker (1731–1806) worked the tobacco farm left to him by his father, a formerly enslaved man, and his mother, a free woman, but he was a scientist at heart. Fascinated by the moon’s movements and the stars, he taught himself astronomy, eventually publishing a series of almanacs. At a 2016 family reunion, Webster, who had always considered herself white, was stunned to learn she was related to Banneker. She reached out to her newfound cousins, and together they discovered what they could about Banneker, a task made more difficult because white supremacists burned down his home after his death and destroyed all but one of his journals. Interspersed with descriptions of her research journey are chapters containing enthralling imaginings, based on historical facts where possible, of how Banneker and his relatives survived centuries of appalling racism.
VERDICT Eloquently written and movingly narrated, Webster’s thought-provoking biography/memoir will likely appeal to anyone wanting insight into the United States’ divisive racial politics.
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