SALUTATIONS, as the spider said — and welcome to AuthorBethMacy.com. I’m a journalist and author, a newly-emptied nester (sniff), a frequent lecturer/speaker, a native Midwesterner (but Southerner for more than half my life), a former newspaper reporter, and the tired co-owner of two terribly rambunctious rescue dogs, Charley and Mavis.
On Oct. 18, Little, Brown and Company published my second book, TRUEVINE, which premiered on The New York Times bestseller list. It’s a story about race, greed, and the circus, and I’ve been chasing it for more than 25 years. I’m thrilled to say it was short-listed for a Kirkus Prize in nonfiction. Janet Maslin of The New York Times, who named it one of her Top Ten Books of 2016, called TRUEVINE a “great second book from a reporter who believes in the power of shoe leather,” and you can hear about my reporting process in conversation with New York Times Book Review editor Pamela Paul here. Terry Gross featured the book on Fresh Air, and the intrepid Lynn Neary did a wonderful story for Morning Edition, kindly allowing me to drive her around some of the locales in the book. Reviewers from Dallas to San Francisco to USA Today have had kind things to say, and I’m very grateful for that. The San Francisco Chronicle placed the book among the year’s top books, as did The New York Times, Minnesota Public Radio, and Kirkus Reviews.
Truevine has been the subject of stories on NPR, Omnivoracious The Amazon Book Review, Vice magazine, and in The Roanoke Times, as well as solid reviews in The New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle (which called it “at once poignant and rigorous, a compassionate dual biography and a forthright examination of codified racism”), Dallas Morning News, Houston Chronicle, and the Wall Street Journal. The insightful BookPage writer Alice Cary interviewed me on C-Span’s Book TV from overstuffed statehouse chairs at the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville.
As Willie Muse said often, “God is good to me.”
If you’ve read it, feel free to leave me feedback here, at the bottom of the page.
Elsewhere on this site you can read about my upcoming readings, book signings and talks, some advice I gave to college graduates, and my storytelling philosophy. (True fact: “There are no good stories in the newsroom.”) Most recently, I’ve written about the election, through the lens of parachute journalism and rural America’s revenge.
Among the themes that permeate my work: I grew up poor. Many of my best ideas have come from photographers I know and love. Some of my favorite writers are Robert Caro (love his advice: “time equals truth”), Bryan Stevenson, Roxane Gay, Anna Quindlen, Tracy Kidder, and Junot Diaz.
I have been accused of overusing em dashes, I love interviewing people in their kitchens, and I have gradually learned, after decades of following Associated Press newspaper style, to appreciate the book-writing charms of the Oxford comma. My favorite writing implements are the Pilot Precise V5 (extra fine, black) and the Palomino Blackwing 602 (its worthy motto is: “Half the pressure, twice the speed”). I’m addicted to a moveable white board product called Wizard Wall and have it plastered all over my office.
I sometimes play hooky on Friday afternoons, where you’ll find me at my neighborhood movie theater, with a kids’ pack in my lap (favorite recent flick: Hunt for the Wilderpeople and Queen of Katwe), and after that maybe sipping a Factory Girl IPA in the bar next door at Local Roots (Parkway Brewing made the session beer in 2014 in honor my first book, FACTORY MAN).
Earliest memory: When I was four, I left home on my tricycle with my dog, Tessie. My mom swears I was gone for about an hour before she found me . . . chatting up the butcher at the grocery store, four blocks away, in our small Ohio town. That’s still what I love most about being a reporter — wandering around, being curious, trying to figure out this holy jumble of people and place.
Truevine has already been the subject of stories on NPR and in The Roanoke Times, as well as solid reviews in The New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle (which called it “at once poignant and rigorous, a compassionate dual biography and a forthright examination of codified racism”), Dallas Morning News, Houston Chronicle, and the Wall Street Journal. The insightful BookPage writer Alice Cary interviewed me on C-Span’s Book TV recently from overstuffed statehouse chairs at the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville. Here’s a short trailer for TRUEVINE courtesy of my husband, Tom Landon, followed by some blurbs, photos of George and Willie Muse, and a summary of the book.
Beth Macy has a way of getting under the skin of American life, burrowing into the seemingly ordinary to find the weird and wonderful taproots of our society.“
—Hampton Sides, author of In the Kingdom of Ice, Blood and Thunder, and Americana
I was thrilled to see TRUEVINE receive warm, starred pre-publication reviews by Kirkus Reviews and ALA Booklist — oh man, do I love librarians, who have contributed mightily to both of my books. And it’s been very kindly recommended by editors compiling fall book lists at Entertainment Weekly, The Millions, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and LitHub.
From Kirkus (starred review):
A consummate chronicler of the American South spotlights the extraordinary history of two kidnapped African-American brothers enslaved as a circus sideshow act. . . . The story draws on years of diligent, investigative research and personal investment on the author’s behalf, and it features numerous interviews with immediate family, neighbors, distant relatives, Truevine townsfolk, and associated friends, most notably Nancy Saunders, Willie’s fiercely outspoken primary caregiver. Macy absorbed their own individual (and often conflicting) interpretations of the Muse kidnappings, condensing and skillfully braiding them into a sturdy, passionate, and penetrating narrative.
THE LOW-DOWN ON TRUEVINE FROM LITTLE, BROWN: The year was 1899, as the old people told the story; the place a sweltering Virginia tobacco community in the Jim Crow South, where everyone they knew was either a former slave, or a child or grandchild of slaves.
TRUEVINE is the story of George and Willie Muse, two African American brothers who were kidnapped and displayed as circus freaks, and whose mother embarked on an epic, decades-long struggle to get them back — and to get justice for her family.
Though the Muse brothers’ narrative has been passed down for over a century, no writer has ever gotten this close to the beating heart of their story, and its mysteries: Were they really kidnapped? How did their mother, a black maid toiling under the harsh restrictions of segregation, bring them home? And why, after getting there, would they ever want to go back?
At the height of their fame, the Muse brothers performed for British royalty and headlined over a dozen sold-out shows at New York’s Madison Square Garden. They were fine musicians and global superstars in a pre-broadcast era. But the very root of their success hinged on the color of their skin and in the outrageous caricatures they were forced to assume: supposed cannibals, sheep-headed freaks, even “Ambassadors from Mars.”
It’s the best story in town,’ a colleague told Beth Macy decades ago, ‘but no one has been able to get it.’ She now has, with tenacity and sensitivity. She gives a singular sideshow its due, offering these ‘Ambassadors from Mars’ a remarkable, deeply affecting afterlife.“
—Stacy Schiff, Pulitzer-winning author of The Witches
This compelling account of one family’s tragic exploitation provides an important lens through which America’s tortured racial history and the cruel legacy of Jim Crow can be seen anew.”
—Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy and founder and director of the Equal Justice Initiative
If over a hundred years ago there had been Black Lives Matter, the mother of George and Willie Muse would have joined and marched for the safe return of her sons.”
—Nikki Giovanni, poet and one of Oprah Winfrey’s “Twenty-five Living Legends”
Taking us into the dark corners of American history that are discussed only in whispers, Beth Macy shines a bright light on the racial profiteering of circus freak shows and the Jim Crow South. In the remarkable Truevine, Macy manages to do what all the exploitative showmen wouldn’t dare; she humanizes the Muse brothers, and in doing so, she has written an unforgettable story of both heartbreak and enduring love.”
—Gilbert King, author of the Pulitzer prize-winning book, Devil in the Grove