My Monticello is a formidable collection that bears witness to this country’s legacies and announces the arrival of a wildly original new voice in American fiction. We spoke with author Jocelyn Nicole Johnson about the inspiration for My Monticello, her audiobook’s multiple narrators (including LeVar Burton!), and more!
By Jocelyn Nicole Johnson • Narrated by Aja Naomi King, January LaVoy, Landon Woodson, LeVar Burton, Ngozi Anyanwu & Tomiwa Edun
“A badass debut by any measure—nimble, knowing, and electrifying.”Colson Whitehead, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Nickel Boys and Harlem Shuffle
Please tell us a little bit about what inspired you to write this book and how this story took shape for you.
My Monticello is at once a love letter to my home state of Virginia and an exploration of longing. The collection was inspired by events both personal and communal—my days of teaching art to young students in Virginia’s public schools, the deadly Unite the Right rally, which took place here in Charlottesville in 2017, our local history of vitriol and violence toward Black and brown people going back to the time of the founding fathers.
In two sentences or less, what’s something that might surprise Libro.fm listeners about your audiobook?
The first story in the audiobook, “Control Negro,” was preformed by LeVar Burton and recorded in front of a live audience in New York!
Have you listened to your own audiobook? If so, what struck you about the narration?
I just got to listen to the audiobook for My Monticello for the very first time and was so excited by the range of voices! Each story voiced by a different reader, one who captures the story’s unique point of view, whether it be a Nigerian father adrift in Virginia, in the The King of Xandria, or a young descendant of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings confronting racist violence and claiming her ancestral home in the titular novella, My Monticello.
Are you an audiobook listener? If so, what are some of your favorite audiobooks?
My partner and I like to listen to audiobooks on long road trips—often something dark or suspenseful: Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower, Neil Gaiman’s Coraline, Kazuo Ishiguro’s Klara and the Sun.
By Octavia E. Butler • Narrated by Lynne Thigpen
By Neil Gaiman • Narrated by the author
By Kazuo Ishiguro • Narrated by Sura Siu
What have independent bookstores and/or booksellers meant to you personally and professionally?
I’ve really come to appreciate indie booksellers, as a reader and a writer. These are spaces that champion a variety of books, a variety of authors.
Anything else to share with us?
I hope listeners immerse themselves in a variety of stories! Stories can be an education, a warning, a comfort, a reprieve, and a pleasure. The stories we listen to can help to shape us.
Header photo by Billy Hunt