THE PROPHETS by Robert Jones, Jr. Celebrates the Heroic Power of Love

Share this story with your world:

Our first Igloo Book Buzz selection of 2021 is THE PROPHETS by Robert Jones, Jr., creator of the “Son of Baldwin” online community (Facebook / IG / Twitter). Published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons today, January 5, this stunning debut novel is about the forbidden union between two enslaved young men on a Deep South plantation, the refuge they find in eachother, and a betrayal that threatens their existence. Edmund White’s starred Publishers Weekly review raved, “The lyricism of THE PROPHETS will recall the prose of James Baldwin … a masterpiece.”

Selected as January’s #1 IndieNext pick, the early feedback from the trades and booksellers has been incredible. The novel launches this week with an 8-city virtual book tour, featuring events moderated by Brit Bennett, Alexander Chee, Kiley Reid, Kiese Laymon, Deesha Philyaw, and Maurice Carlos Ruffin, among others. Robert Jones, Jr. was the subject of an expansive profile in The New York Times and he’ll be on NPR’s “Weekend Edition Saturday” on 1/9.

“THE PROPHETS is the book we all need right now,” says Sally Kim, Senior Vice President & Publisher, G.P. Putnam’s Sons. “It’s undeniably dark, because of all its truths, but—somehow, incredibly—it manages to be incredibly life-affirming. I always describe this book as a celebration of love in all its forms, and of the enormous, heroic power of love.”

Robert Jones, Jr. shares, “As a Black queer person who has felt so cut off from my lineage, the question I wanted to ask: Did Black queer people exist in the distant past? Of course they did, but it’s often the way of a traumatized people to erase the past, shun excavation of it, deny it ever existed, or pretend that it looked some other erroneous but glorious way. This is understandable. Who would want to explain the horrors of yesteryear with no way of stopping the pain from returning? Terrified that I might discover the answer, I went searching. I read every book about the pre-colonial African societies and the American antebellum period that I could get my hands on. In pre-colonial African historical data, queerness was often presented clinically, as convenience in the absence of the opposite sex, as custom or ritual. In the antebellum period queerness was mentioned briefly at most, and almost always as something despicable or synonymous with rape. This prompted another question: What about love? Love, in all of its permutations, is the discovery at the heart of THE PROPHETS; hard or soft; withheld or freely given; healing or wounding, but always revealing. Love is also why I wrote this book: for the ancestors who were wiped from the record, who spoke to me when I almost didn’t listen. To give me a line to walk back to and a tree to lean against and shake when the mood strikes. Sometimes, I don’t even think of THE PROPHETS as a book but as a prayer, a testimony, maybe even a witnessing.”

A selection of more praise for THE PROPHETS:

  • “A new kind of epic…If, as Robert Jones, Jr. writes, ‘There was no such thing as monsters,’ what to make of his first novel, a grand achievement that pits love against cruelty and spares no detail in its brutal telling of the American past?…Indeed, while THE PROPHETS’ dreamy realism recalls the work of Toni Morrison and Esi Edugyan, its penetrating focus on social dynamics stands out more singularly. Known as the founder of the ‘Son of Baldwin’ social justice blog, Jones does its namesake quite proud with this novel—a Black story and a gay story, certainly, but one that reaches far and wide in its interrogation of trauma, connection, and coexistence.” –Entertainment Weekly
  • “A brutal and beautiful love story between two enslaved men on a Mississippi plantation, a tale of rage and grace, of refuge among the ruins.” –O, the Oprah Magazine
  • “[A] scintillating portrait of Black queerness and a bleak account of slavery in the antebellum South, captured in Jones’ lyrical yet incisive prose.” –Time
  • “Jones may be best known as the blogger ‘Son of Baldwin.’ His extraordinary debut, with its sinuous, multivoiced narrative, will change that.” –Washington Post
  • “In this powerful novel about a Deep South plantation, enslaved Isaiah and Samuel share a private, abiding love that’s a refuge from the daily brutality they endure—and that has consequences for everyone around them. THE PROPHETS by Robert Jones Jr. is an original, heartbreaking testament to love, and to the supremacy of good over evil.” –Real Simple

Posted: January 5, 2021