The University of Iowa

An Interview with Ayana Mathis

"Debut novelist Ayana Mathis earned her golden ticket to literary stardom earlier this year, when Oprah Winfrey stamped her book with her seal of approval.

'The Twelve Tribes of Hattie' begins with 15-year-old Hattie Shepherd tragically losing her firstborn twins. Hattie will give birth to nine more children; her 12 tribes are her children and one grandchild, the stories of which Mathis weaves throughout.

Mathis grew up in Philadelphia, where the novel begins, and cites an interest in her mother’s generation, those African-American children of the Great Migration who moved from the South, as inspiration for her story.

Mathis, reached by phone in Iowa City where she is serving as guest faculty at the University of Iowa’s esteemed Writers’ Workshop, talked about the genesis of her tribe of characters and the importance of staying true to one’s vision."

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