by Kristie Robin Johnson
Kristie Robin Johnson has lived nearly her whole life in small town Georgia, as did five generations of African American women before her beginning with a slave, her oldest known ancestor. In High Cotton, Johnson explores the social and economic consequences of her lineage, drawing on pivotal moments from her own experience to illuminate the lived reality of a daughter of the Deep South.
Johnson unapologetically describes a life that falls below the standards of black respectability, that of an unmarried young mother, an addict’s daughter, a college dropout, welfare recipient, and willful sinner. The voice in High Cotton is a cry from within the masses. Johnson stretches out long brown fingers as far as they will reach to barely skim the first, crucial rung of the ladder to success, that so-called American dream. She exposes the soft underbelly of black girl magic, celebrating black life in all its glorious vulnerability.
The essays in High Cotton contain all the complication of a post–civil rights era, post–women’s liberation, pre-millennial black woman living in the modern South, conjuring universal truths every reader will recognize.
“I wish that every new essay collection that I read struck me with this kind of honesty, conviction, daring, and intelligence. Kristie Robin Johnson’s High Cotton adds new experiences and insights to the canon of literary creative nonfiction. Her writing conveys the personal, cultural, and professional with poignant sensitivity. Familial addiction, predatory dating, skin tone, matriarchal lines, reading Audre Lorde, school lockdowns—this is important, fresh work, and you’ll want to read it through from cover to cover.”
—Allen Gee, author of My Chinese-America
“Both alluringly personal and culturally astute, High Cotton examines race, gender, and poverty through the author’s experiences as a black daughter, a black mother and, chiefly, a black woman living in the Deep South. This is a book about finding your place, knowing your place, and the ways you can and cannot escape that place. Kristie Robin Johnson’s voice is both lyrical and sharp, soft as cotton, stinging as a snakebite. These essays have charm and power and enviable strength.”
—Aubrey Hirsch, author of Why We Never Talk About Sugar
“Among the personal essayist’s great challenges—the fundamental challenge—is to somehow be ruthlessly unsentimental about life’s traumas and tribulations while still projecting warmth, good humor, empathy, and generosity of spirit: to cast a cold eye on life without being, or seeming to be, cold. In the twenty-one essays (many as piquant as they are brief) that make up High Cotton, Kristie Robin Johnson more than meets this goal. But given the vicissitudes that have informed her life and that are her book’s principle subject, Johnson’s greatest feat is having written the thing at all. That it happens to be so well written is, one might say, the icing on the cake.”
—Peter Selgin, author of The Inventors
“High Cotton is a compelling collection of essays that reveal a wide-ranging, pointed curiosity that aims for excavation and revelation. In direct and lively prose, Johnson examines how race, gender, motherhood, sexual violence, poverty, and disability shape her dreams and desires, her realities and responsibilities. Johnson is an uncompromising truth teller, at once vulnerable and fierce, soft and hard. Johnson’s essays recount stories of pain forgiven but not forgotten, of love lost but also of love found again and again.”
—Kerry Neville, author of Remember to Forget Me
“The pure quality of Kristie Robin Johnson’s timely, riveting High Cotton often left me breathless. Johnson’s dexterous prose makes this vivid collection soar even when taking on the weightiest of themes. I left this book feeling as if my heart and mind had both expanded. How can life be so hard and so beautiful all at once? I don’t know, but I’m sure the answer lies in these pages.”
—Mike McClelland, author of Gay Zoo Day