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Breena Clarke Stitches A Slavery-Era Saga

Book Tour is a Web feature and podcast. Each week, we present leading authors of fiction and nonfiction as they read from and discuss their work.

The Washington, D.C., neighborhood of Georgetown is best known these days as a moneyed preserve of high-status politicians and other Beltway elites. But once upon a time, Georgetown was a primarily African-American neighborhood — an exciting, gritty and sometimes dangerous place, with no laws protecting its inhabitants. In her new Civil War-era novel, Stand the Storm, author Breena Clarke provides a glimpse into a little-known side of the nation's capital and one of its most iconic enclaves.

"Sewing Annie" Coats is a former slave who's managed to buy her freedom from a Maryland plantation owner. Traumatized by the sale of her husband, Coats ensures that her children have highly marketable skills — like sewing, weaving, knitting and dying — to keep them safe and valued.

Newly and barely free, Coats opens a laundry in Georgetown, where her son has been apprenticed to a tailor. The city resembles a lawless frontier town rather than the "promised land" to which she'd pinned her hopes. Together, mother and son buck the odds to keep their family together and rise in the face of horrific oppression.

Stand the Storm is a novel of familial devotion, resourcefulness and stirring optimism. The Dallas Morning News called the novel "a love story in its purest form." The Washington Post compared it to a great 19th century page turner, and its reviewer added an unabashed plug: "I loved this book. I loved these people."

Clarke grew up in Washington, D.C., and was educated at the city's historically black Howard University. Her first novel, River, Cross My Heart was a 1999 best-seller and an Oprah's Book Club pick.

This reading of Stand the Storm took place in August 2008 at the Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington, D.C.

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