One of the true bummers about the fabric of reality and the nature of spacetime is that time travel isn’t possible. But humanity’s urge to experience the past and foresee the future is a strong one, and since when have we ever let something like scientific impossibility or astronomical odds stop us? Necessity is, after all, the mother of invention. In lieu of a literal time machine, humans, clever creatures that we are, invent, recreate and reimagine history while also crafting and projecting the future through storytelling.

In this blog series, we’ll travel through time in the fictional dimension. Each post will recommend works of fiction set in a specific historical (or future) time and/or place. Explore different perspectives of the past and forecasts of the future in Stacks to the Future.

Today’s Destination: The American South, 1619-1865

On June 19th, we celebrate Juneteenth, a day that marks the end of slavery in the United States. On June 19th, 1865, enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, were finally freed, despite the fact that they had been freed two years before by the Emancipation Proclamation. According to, the delay was due to the way the Emancipation Proclamation was enforced – or in this case, not. Enslaved people were typically liberated with the advancement of the Union Army. Because Texas was on the frontier of the Confederacy, it was not until 1865 that Union Army General Gordon Granger announced General Order Number 3, which finally abolished slavery in Texas.

This time we’ll explore a larger time frame: 1619-1865, the era of American slavery. During this time, (primarily white) European colonists and eventually (primarily white) Americans enslaved primarily African people and their descendants. The legacy of American slavery lingers today, not only within generational memory but also in our politics, economy and our very national landscape. The fight for Black lives endures.

This installment of Stacks to the Future celebrates Juneteenth by featuring fictionalized narratives – all by Black authors – taking place during the era of American slavery. I have also provided a list of non-fiction readings if you are interested in exploring history beyond these stories.

You can find these titles either in person in our library stacks or in our digital collection. Title descriptions are provided by the publisher.

Stacks to the Future: Juneteenth, Fountaindale Public Library

Into the Depths of Experience

Things Past Telling by Sheila Williams

Born in West Africa in the mid-eighteenth century, Maryam Prescilla Grace–a.k.a “Momma Grace” will live a long, wondrous life marked by hardship, oppression, opportunity and love. Though she will be “gifted” various names, her birth name is known to her alone. Over the course of 100-plus years, she survives capture, enslavement by several property owners, the Atlantic crossing when she is only eleven years of age, and a brief stint as a pirate’s ward, acting as both a spy and a translator. Maryam learns midwifery from a Caribbean-born wise woman whose “craft” combines curated techniques and medicines from African, Indigenous and European women. Those midwifery skills allow her to sometimes transcend the racial and class barriers of her enslavement as she walks the razor’s edge trying to balance the lives and health of her own people with the cruel economic mandates of the slaveholders, who view infants born in bondage not as flesh-and-blood children but as an investment property. Throughout her triumphant and tumultuous life, Maryam gains and loses her homeland, her family, her culture, her husband, her lovers and her children. Yet as the decades pass, this tenacious woman never loses her sense of self.

Why it matters: Williams’s novel is expansive, telling an engrossing story about a rich life. Ultimately it is a novel not just about the experiences of enslaved Africans. It is also about Black identity and selfhood over time and harrowing circumstances.


Stacks to the Future: Juneteenth, Fountaindale Public Library

Living History

Kindred by Octavia Butler

Dana, a modern black woman, is celebrating her twenty-sixth birthday with her new husband when she is snatched abruptly from her home in California and transported to the antebellum South. Rufus, the white son of a plantation owner, is drowning, and Dana has been summoned to save him. Dana is drawn back repeatedly through time to the slave quarters, and each time the stay grows longer, more arduous and more dangerous until it is uncertain whether or not Dana’s life will end, long before it has a chance to begin.

Why it matters: Butler is a modern master of Black sci-fi and Afrofuturism. Kindred explores – quite literally – the past and the ways it is hopelessly and irrevocably bound up in the present. This is a must-read.


Stacks to the Future: Juneteenth, Fountaindale Public Library

Amidst Uncomfortable Complexities

The Known World by Edward P. Jones

Henry Townsend, a farmer, boot maker and former slave, through the surprising twists and unforeseen turns of life in antebellum Virginia, becomes proprietor of his own plantation―as well as his own slaves. When he dies, his widow Caldonia succumbs to profound grief, and things begin to fall apart at their plantation: slaves take to escaping under cover of night, and families who had once found love under the weight of slavery begin to betray one another. Beyond the Townsend household, the known world also unravels: low-paid white patrollers stand watch as slave “speculators” sell free black people into slavery, and rumors of slave rebellions set white families against slaves who have served them for years.

An ambitious, courageous, luminously written masterwork, The Known World seamlessly weaves the lives of the freed and the enslaved―and allows all of us a deeper understanding of the enduring multidimensional world created by the institution of slavery.

Why it matters: Jones’s novel complicates our typical image of American slavery by focusing not just on the ownership of enslaved Black people by white Americans but also by Black Americans. Considered a modern classic, Jones’s novel is an exploration of some of the difficult realities of American slavery.


Stacks to the Future: Juneteenth, Fountaindale Public Library

Between History and Magical Realism

Beloved by Toni Morrison

Staring unflinchingly into the abyss of slavery, this spellbinding novel transforms history into a story as powerful as Exodus and as intimate as a lullaby. Sethe, its protagonist, was born a slave and escaped to Ohio, but eighteen years later, she is still not free. She has too many memories of Sweet Home, the beautiful farm where so many hideous things happened. And Sethe’s new home is haunted by the ghost of her baby, who died nameless and whose tombstone is engraved with a single word: Beloved. Filled with bitter poetry and suspense as taut as a rope, Beloved is a towering achievement. After the Civil War ends, Sethe longingly recalls the two-year-old daughter whom she killed when threatened with recapture after escaping from slavery 18 years before.

Why it matters: Morrison’s heart-wrenching novel is considered both a reader favorite and a literary masterpiece. Beloved tells a story of how trauma, sacrifice and love are often served up together all at once.


Explore the Era Through Nonfiction

Uncover the history of Juneteenth in the essays of Annette Gordon-Reed’s On Juneteenth (2021).

Discover a new origin story for American slavery beginning not with the birth of America in 1776 but rather in 1619, the year the first enslaved Africans were brought to America in The 1619 Project: a New Origin Story, edited by Nikole Hannah-Jones, Caitlin Roper, Ilena Silverman and Jake Silverstein (2021)

Explore the intersection of history, food and Black American identity in The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South by Michael W. Twitty (2017)

Encounter first-hand narratives and perspectives of American slavery in The Great Stain: Witnessing American Slavery by Noel Rae (2018)

Navigate Black masculinity, its history and frontiers in We real cool: Black men and masculinity by bell hooks (2004)

Imagine a strange world as insidious as our own in the television series Watchmen (2019), a sequel to Alan Moore’s graphic novel of the same name. Watchmen offers a glimpse at an alternate world where, despite the existence of real-life superheroes, the reality of racism and America’s history of racial violence lurks just as close to the surface as in our own time.