Wake: The Hidden History of Women-Led Slave Revolts

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A Best Book of 2021 by NPR and The Washington Post

Part graphic novel, part memoir, Wake is an imaginative tour-de-force that tells the “powerful” (The New York Times Book Review) story of women-led slave revolts and chronicles scholar Rebecca Hall’s efforts to uncover the truth about these women warriors who, until now, have been left out of the historical record.

Women warriors planned and led revolts on slave ships during the Middle Passage. They fought their enslavers throughout the Americas. And then they were erased from history.

Wake tells the “riveting” (Angela Y. Davis) story of Dr. Rebecca Hall, a historian, granddaughter of slaves, and a woman haunted by the legacy of slavery. The accepted history of slave revolts has always told her that enslaved women took a back seat. But Rebecca decides to look deeper, and her journey takes her through old court records, slave ship captain’s logs, crumbling correspondence, and even the forensic evidence from the bones of enslaved women from the “negro burying ground” uncovered in Manhattan. She finds women warriors everywhere.

Using a “remarkable blend of passion and fact, action and reflection” (NPR), Rebecca constructs the likely pasts of Adono and Alele, women rebels who fought for freedom during the Middle Passage, as well as the stories of women who led slave revolts in Colonial New York. We also follow Rebecca’s own story as the legacy of slavery shapes her life, both during her time as a successful attorney and later as a historian seeking the past that haunts her.

Illustrated beautifully in black and white, Wake will take its place alongside classics of the graphic novel genre, like Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis and Art Spiegelman’s Maus. This story of a personal and national legacy is a powerful reminder that while the past is gone, we still live in its wake.