Twenty-eight-year-old protagonist Tommy Lee Tyson steps off the Greyhound bus in his hometown of Swamp Creek, Arkansas—a place he left when he was eighteen, vowing never to return. Yet fate and a Ph.D. in black studies force him back to his rural origins as he seeks to understand himself and the black community that produced him. A cold, nonchalant father and an emotionally indifferent mother make his return, after a ten-year hiatus, practically unbearable, and the discovery of his baby sister's death and her burial in the backyard almost consumes him. His mother watches his agony when he discovers his sister's tombstone, but neither she nor other family members is willing to disclose the secret of her death. Only after being prodded incessantly does his older brother, Willie James, relent and provide Tommy Lee with enough knowledge to figure out exactly what happened and why.
Meanwhile, Tommy's seventy-year-old teacher—lying on her deathbed—asks him to remain in Swamp Creek and assume her position as the headmaster of the one-room schoolhouse. He refuses vehemently and she dies having bequeathed him her five thousand-book collection in the hopes that he will change his mind.
Over the course of a one-week visit, riddled with tension, heartache, and revelation, Tommy Lee Tyson discovers truths about his family, his community, and his undeniable connection to rural Southern black folk and their ways.
"[A] powerful debut novel of Daniel Black . . . Readers are taken on a spellbinding journey through suffering and redemption through language that celebrates the wonders and struggles of African American life in the South. Like Zora Neale Hurston and Ernest J. Gaines, Black is the consummate storyteller. His inimitable literary voice weds the sacred and profane, the lettered and unlettered, calling us to explore the best and worst in the human condition."—Jeffrey B. Leak, The Charlotte Observer
"The brilliantly told lesson we learn in reading Daniel Black's thrilling literary debut is that the power of unspoken love can carry us through life and that resentment, hate, and anger do not ultimately triumph over the will to embrace family, no matter how flawed. They Tell Me of a Home is laced with folkloric humor, mystery, and jaw-dropping surprises that prove that home may not be where the heart is, but it is surely where we must journey to know our true selves. Daniel Black wields a powerful pen, a sharp eye, and muscular prose in giving us a memorable, even haunting story of the ties that bind."—Michael Eric Dyson, author of Is Bill Cosby Right? and Come Hell of High Water
"They Tell Me of a Home is a wonderful novel! There is skill. Grace. Humor. Joy. In the writing. In the telling. I saw, heard, history and herstory, and I saw how important this book is for our community. Welcome, my brother, to the telling of our communal home." —Sonia Sanchez, author of Shake Loose My Skin
"I laughed, cried, prayed, sang, mourned, rejoiced . . . I lived in the pages of They Tell Me of a Home. If ever we needed to chart our way Home, this is about as close as we'll ever get. Every traveler will hold fast to this home-going road map! Daniel Omotosho Black has penned a fiction that pierces almost every portal to what is real, reminding us that fine distinctions are not only blurred; we begin to ask why we pretend there is any difference between what we know is real and imagine isn't. Mr. Black has written life's great parable! Go Home . . . and find yourself along the way."—Jeffrey Lynn Woodyard, Ph.D.
"Thomas Lee Tyson returns to Swamp Creek, Arkansas, after a 10-year absence. T. L. left as an emotionally abused adolescent off to get a college degree but returns as a self-assured, newly minted Ph.D. on the verge of a career as a professor of African American history. After 10 years of no communication with his family, he expects to renew his deep love for his younger sister and perhaps rescue her from the stultifying atmosphere of the small town. But he learns that his beloved sister died mysteriously some years earlier and is buried in the backyard. His tortured reunion with his emotionally distant father, mother, and brother is complicated by the need to discover how and why his sister died and the key to his own identity. T. L. discovers a community not as ignorant and backward as he had remembered but one whose racial heritage and storytelling traditions were appreciated and celebrated. And at the local 'Meetin' Tree,' he discovers a sense of home and identity he has not found elsewhere."—Vanessa Bush, Booklist
"In Black's thoughtful debut about return to and reconciliation with one's roots, Tommy Lee 'T. L.' Tyson comes home to rural Swamp Creek, Ark., after a 10-year absence. Having fled a life of manual labor and an unloving family for academia, T. L., now with a Ph.D. in black studies, returns seeking 'familial clarity' after years of silence. Even stronger than his need to come to terms with his estranged family—including his tyrannical father, Cleatis; remote mother, Marion; and older brother, Willie James—is his desire to reconnect with his adored younger 'Sister,' Cynthia Jane. But he arrives home to find Sister dead and buried in the backyard, and no one will tell him how she died. Sister's death isn't the only family secret T. L. will unravel: he also visits his beloved, ailing teacher and mentor, Carolyn Swinton. They're reunited just before she dies, and upon her passing he discovers that he is her biological son. T. L. also finally breaks Willie James's silence and learns the shocking story of Sister's death . . . Black elevates his promising debut with an ear for dialogue and a specific sense of Southern place."—Publishers Weekly
“Eexcuse me, sir,” I said apprehensively to the Greyhound bus driver. “Could you let me off at the big oak tree about a mile up the road on the right?”
He studied me through the rearview mirror and frowned,...