Kristina R. Gaddy is an award-winning writer who believes in the power of narrative nonfiction to bring stories from the past to life in order to inform the world we live in today. Her new book Well of Souls: Uncovering the Banjo's Hidden History (W.W. Norton 2022) is an extraordinary story unfolding across two hundred years, where she uncovers the banjo’s key role in Black spirituality, ritual, and rebellion. Her debut nonfiction book … more
Flowers in the Gutter
Flowers in the Gutter tells the true story of the Edelweiss Pirates, teenagers who resisted the Nazis.
Fritz, Gertrud, and Jean were classic outsiders, their clothes were different, their music was rebellious, and they weren’t afraid to fight. But they were also Germans living under Hitler, and every one of those acts could get them arrested or worse. As children in 1933, they saw their world change. Their earliest memories were of the Nazi rise to power and of their parents fighting Brownshirts in the streets, being sent to prison, or just disappearing.
As Hitler’s grip tightened, these three found themselves trapped in a nation whose government contradicted everything they believed in. And by the time they were teenagers, the Nazis expected them to be part of the war machine. Fritz, Gertrude, and Jean and hundreds like them said no. They grew bolder, painting anti-Nazi graffiti, distributing anti-war leaflets, and helping those persecuted by the Nazis. Their actions were always dangerous. The Gestapo pursued and arrested hundreds of Edelweiss Pirates. In World War II’s desperate final year, some Pirates joined in sabotage and armed resistance, risking the Third Reich’s ultimate punishment.
"AN EYE-OPENING ACCOUNT OF TENACITY THAT BRINGS THE EFFORTS OF YOUNG ANTI-NAZI ACTIVISTS VIVIDLY TO LIFE." - KIRKUS, STARRED REVIEW
"TOLD FROM THE THREE TEENS’ PERSPECTIVES, THIS COMPELLING BOOK IS CAREFULLY AND EXPERTLY RESEARCHED.... A MUST-READ." - SCHOOL & LIBRARY JOURNAL, STARRED REVIEW
"THIS COMPELLING ACCOUNT CONVEYS THE PROFOUND BRUTALITY OF HITLER’S GERMANY AND HOW SOME CHILDREN RESPONDED WITH ACTS OF BREATHTAKING BRAVERY" - PUBLISHER'S WEEKLY
"GADDY’S THOROUGH RESEARCH SHINES A LIGHT ON A HEROIC GROUP OF GERMANS THAT OFTEN GOES UNMENTIONED." - BOOKLIST
Well of Souls: Uncovering the Banjo's Hidden History
An illuminating history of the banjo, revealing its origins at the crossroads of slavery, religion, and music.In an extraordinary story unfolding across two hundred years, Kristina Gaddy uncovers the banjo’s key role in Black spirituality, ritual, and rebellion. Through meticulous research in diaries, letters, archives, and art, she traces the banjo’s beginnings from the seventeenth century, when enslaved people of African descent created it from gourds or calabashes and wood. Gaddy shows how the enslaved carried this unique instrument as they were transported and sold by slaveowners throughout the Americas, to Suriname, the Caribbean, and the colonies that became U.S. states, including Louisiana, South Carolina, Maryland, and New York.
African Americans came together at rituals where the banjo played an essential part. White governments, rightfully afraid that the gatherings could instigate revolt, outlawed them without success. In the mid-nineteenth century, Blackface minstrels appropriated the instrument for their bands, spawning a craze. Eventually the banjo became part of jazz, bluegrass, and country, its deepest history forgotten. “Nowhere is [the banjo] talked about as a ceremonial instrument, a spiritual instrument—until Kristina's painstaking years-long work to document this unbelievably important aspect… It was incredible. It was unexpected. It was so needed—especially now, in these contentious times--connections to the past that are joyous and beautiful and deep should be treasured. Such as this book."
—Rhiannon Giddens, MacArthur Fellow and Grammy Award-winning musician
- One of The New Yorker's best books of 2022 and Briefly Noted: “Tracing the development of the banjo… this meticulous history also illuminates the difficulties of unearthing a story rooted in the experiences of the enslaved.”
- Review in The Wall Street Journal: “In her compelling, thoroughly researched history, Kristina R. Gaddy reveals adifferent instrument entirely, one intimately rooted in the African diaspora and capable ofexpressing flights of sorrow and joy.”
- Review in The Economist: "“Beguiling… [Gaddy] weaves her story together from sources including paintings, diaries and letters.... In a less daring writer’s hands, this might have become a slog, but Ms. Gaddy successfully blends archival skills with imagination.”
- Review in Goldmine: “…So vividly does [Gaddy] write, and so enthusiastically does she convey her meaning, that many of the songs [here] play unbidden in your mind, through the rhythm of her sentences, the lyric of her vocabulary. As much as Well Of Souls is a gripping, fascinating, story, it is also a beautifully written one… a novel in documentary’s clothing.”
- Review in Bluegrass Unlimited: "Gaddy… has written exactly the book the banjo world needs right now. Thorough… engaging and easy to read… [The] information presented here can help connect today’s musical strains to their deep roots that are just beginning to be rediscovered and acknowledged."
- Starred review in Booklist: "This is a glorious and invaluable chronicle for music lovers and everyone interested in American culture."
- Review in Bookpage: "Gaddy’s lively storytelling re-creates scenes from 17th-century Jamaica to 19th-century Washington, D.C., and beyond, illustrating not only the birth and development of the banjo but also its co-optation by white people. ... Gaddy’s captivating book likewise recovers chapters in what is still a little-known history of this quintessential American instrument."