12.05.12

What You Need to Know About Oprah New Book Club Pick: Ayana Mathis’ ‘The Twelve Tribes of Hattie’

The media queen has chosen a debut novel as her next pick. Who’s Mathis, and what’s the book about?

Get ready for the O-bump. Brooklyn author Ayana Mathis’s debut novel, The Twelve Tribes of Hattie, has been chosen by Oprah as the next read in her Book Club 2.0. The book tells the story of Hattie Shepherd, who at the beginning of the novel is a 15-year-old black girl in 1923 Georgia, fleeing Jim Crow and making the Great Migration to Philadelphia, where she finds herself in an unhappy marriage and has 12 children. The narrative follows her family through decades. “I can’t remember when I read anything that moved me in quite this way, besides the work of Toni Morrison,” Oprah said.

The book draws a little from Mathis’s own childhood. Her mother raised her only daughter on her own, and the two moved frequently. Mathis found herself in New York during college, attending Columbia University, then moved on to graduate work at Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She’s familiar with the writer’s life—she’s done everything from waitressing to—oh no!—working in journalism. Well, she probably doesn’t have to do that anymore. Oprah has launched careers and hugely boosted the sales of the authors she’s picked. In part thanks to Oprah, Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth has sold more than 3 million copies. However, another mega-seller, A Million Little Pieces, which was billed as a memoir of alcoholism and drug abuse by James Frey, ran into controversy when it was revealed that many of the events in the book never happened. It’s sometimes even picked works of serious literature, like Cormac McCathy’s The Road and older classics like the superb Pevear and Volokhonsky translation of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina.

The original club ran for 15 years and finished in 2011 with the end of The Oprah Winfrey Show, but it was rebooted on Oprah’s OWN network in June with Cheryl Strayed’s Wild as the pick—and sales immediately skyrocketed. Oprah has summoned all of her media powers to promote her picks, using OWN, her magazine O, Facebook, Twitter, VYou, and Oprah.com. Hattie is the club’s second pick—the O sticker of destiny has been stamped on all versions of the book, which includes a Kindle edition as well as hardcover, large-print paperback, and audiobook.