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Strange Fruit, Volume I: Uncelebrated Narratives from Black History

Review

Strange Fruit, Volume I: Uncelebrated Narratives from Black History

For those familiar with "Strange Fruit," a song performed most famously by Billie Holiday, one may assume that this title is a collection of lynching stories --- victims of the rope. Far from the truth! As Gill states, his debut graphic novel "tells stories of people who, in spite of the 'strange fruit' society where they lived, liberated themselves from the magnolia trees and tried to do something amazing...Billie Holiday sang about the time in which she lived. These stories are about amazing people during those times who, in many ways, cut their own rope."

In this first volume, Gill has assembled and unfurled a wonderful set of nine stories, infused with brilliantly elaborate illustrations, accompanied by painstakingly handwritten descriptions. There are a handful of stories that are not totally unfamiliar to readers of black history, such as Henry "Box" Brown, Marshall "Major" Taylor and Bass Reeves. But most portray obscure people and events, such as Harry "Bucky" Lew, the first competitive black basketball player; Richard Potter, the first black stage magician; and Theophilus Thompson, the first competitive chess player. Most notable are the horrific accounts of Malaga Island, Noyes Academy and the audacious letter of a black Union soldier to a slaveholder.

"Earmarked as one-of-a-kind, this graphic novel is not only an additional masterpiece to black history, but also a delightfully educational read for both young and old."

Gill's depictions are nothing short of inspiring as well as entertaining. The narratives are but a small yet powerful representation of emancipation. Most importantly, they are essential puzzle pieces critical to the completion of American history. Gill ends each story on a positive note, especially after such blatantly appalling accounts like Malaga Island and Noyes Academy.

Superbly penned and illustrated, STRANGE FRUIT:  Uncelebrated Narratives from Black History, Volume 1 is indubitably a work of love. Earmarked as one-of-a-kind, this graphic novel is not only an additional masterpiece to black history, but also a delightfully educational read for both young and old.

Reviewed by Anita Lock on July 7, 2014

Strange Fruit, Volume I: Uncelebrated Narratives from Black History
by Joel Christian Gill