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An unexpected family photograph leads Dionne Ford to uncover the stories of her enslaved female ancestors, reclaim their power, and begin to heal
Countless Black Americans descended from slavery are related to the enslavers who bought and sold their ancestors. Among them is Dionne Ford, whose great grandmother was the last of six children born to a Louisiana cotton broker and the enslaved woman he received as a wedding gift.
What shapes does this kind of intergenerational trauma take? In these pages, which move between her inner life and deep research, Ford tells us. It manifests as alcoholism and post-traumatic stress; it finds echoes in her own experience of sexual abuse at the hands of a relative, and in the ways in which she builds her own interracial family.
To heal, Ford tries a wide range of therapies, lifestyle changes, and recovery meetings. “Anything,” she writes, “to keep from going back there.” But what she learns is that she needs to go back there, to return to her female ancestors, and unearth what she can about them to start to feel whole.
About the Author
Dionne Ford is an NEA creative writing fellow and the co-editor of the anthology Slavery's Descendants: Shared Legacies of Race and Reconciliation (Rutgers University Press). Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Literary Hub, New Jersey Monthly, the Rumpus, and Ebony and won awards from the National Association of Black Journalists and the Newswomen's Club of New York. She holds a BA from Fordham University and an MFA from New York University. She lives in New Jersey with her husband and daughters.
“A fascinating American odyssey quite unlike any other you are likely to encounter, beautifully written, heartfelt, at times painfully candid, and deeply moving.”—Joyce Carol Oates
“Go Back and Get It tells the remarkable story of Dionne Ford’s search for healing both in the present and in the past. This book offers inspiration and hope for everyone who wants to discover their ancestry and who seeks to connect their own trauma to larger social structures. Ford’s thesis that America is founded on the rape of black women is convincing and terrible, but her understanding is a gift and a triumph.”—Alice Elliott Dark, author of Fellowship Point and In the Gloaming
“In this piercing, moving memoir, Dionne Ford opens the doors to her family’s past and reclaims the lost history of her enslaved ancestors, finding healing for her personal traumas and offering a vision of how our nation might heal its own. She shows us that the painful truths that we often keep buried are the ones we must unearth if we are ever to become whole.”—Rachel L. Swarns, author of American Tapestry and The 272
“Go Back and Get It nails that magical balance only the best memoirs can manage, equal parts unflinching and tender. With effortless prose, Ford shares a captivating story that teaches us not only about her life, but about ourselves—as individuals and as a nation—and positions her as an essential American literary voice.”—Sara Novic, New York Times–bestselling author of True Biz
“Few writers offer both urgent clarity of vision and arresting, innovative, powerful prose, but Ford does with Go Back and Get It. The stakes of this book could not be higher—what Ford is writing for here is nothing less than to save her own life and the lives of other Black and multiracial women—but line by line, this book is perfect.”—Emma Copley Eisenberg, author of The Third Rainbow Girl
“Ford’s tenacious, openhearted, poetic Go Back and Get It took my breath away. On her thirty-eighth birthday, Ford found a photo of her great-great grandmother with the white man who’d enslaved her—also Ford’s ancestor—and two of the six children they had together. Seeing these forerunners of her own most wrenching experiences deepened and clarified a search that Ford had been moving toward since childhood. The result is transcendent: memoir and quest, critique and exhortation, a distillation of wisdom profound as the Psalms.”—Maud Newton, author of Ancestor Trouble
“Tenacious, openhearted, ultimately transcendent”—The Washington Post
“When Dionne Ford found a photo of her ancestors online, it sparked a seven-year voyage to uncover the stories of the people in it...Go Back and Get It: A Memoir of Race, Inheritance, and Intergenerational Healing chronicles her physical and emotional journey, exploring the ways racist trauma manifests not just in society but also in families.”—Essence Magazine
“The parallels Ford draws between her personal traumas and the ongoing struggle among Black Americans to find wholeness and validation—in the form of reparations and other measures—make her narrative especially compelling. That she was able to find connection with lost Black relatives who would become some of her greatest sources of support helps transform a book about multigenerational loss into one about the healing power of community. A cathartic reading experience.”—Kirkus Reviews
“In her powerful memoir, Dionne Ford tells the story of finding a photograph that leads her to unexpected discoveries in her family’s past and the healing of the intergenerational trauma it unleashes.”—Ms. Magazine
“Go Back and Get It is as deeply empathetic as it is introspective. With this striking work, Ford magnifies the interconnectedness of pain and forgiveness, cruelty and reconciliation. In order to regain autonomy—to feel at home in her body and to fully own her Blackness—she had to confront the dead rather than erase them.”
“Ford’s willingness to stare down her, her family’s, and this country’s painful history makes this book extraordinary, alongside her openness about her path to healing.”—Chicago Review of Books