November 29, 2021 8:16 AM EST

A singular object connects the lives of three women through generations in historian Tiya Miles’ intricately layered and deeply moving work of nonfiction. The object is a cotton sack, first passed down from an enslaved woman named Rose to her 9-year-old daughter Ashley in the 1850s, before the child was sold into slavery and separated from her mother. Decades later, that family history was embroidered onto the sack by Ashley’s granddaughter Ruth in 1921. Miles mines the past for insights into these women’s stories—a process that reveals their minimal presence in the archives of the antebellum South. The result is a powerful look at the journeys of women long overlooked by a history that has been primarily recorded by white men. The 2021 National Book Award winner for nonfiction, All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, a Black Family Keepsake explores the journey of one totem and decades of untold stories.

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