Up From Freedom

Wayne Grady presents his novel on prejudice, a willingness to change and a question of forgiveness.

Wayne Grady

For readers of Colson Whitehead, James McBride, Yaa Gyasi and Lawrence Hill, Up From Freedom is a powerful and emotional novel about the dangers that arise when we stay silent in the face of prejudice or are complicit in its development.

As a young man, Virgil Moody vowed he would never be like his father, he would never own slaves. When he moves from his father's plantation in Savannah to New Orleans, he takes with him Annie, a tiny woman with sharp eyes and a sharper tongue, who he is sure would not survive life on the plantation. She'll be much safer with him, away from his father's cruelty. And when he discovers Annie's pregnancy, already a few months along, he is all the more certain that he made the right decision. 

As the years pass, the divide between Moody's assumptions and Annie's reality widens ever further. Moody even comes to think of Annie as his wife and Lucas as their son. Of course, they are not. As Annie reminds him, in moments of anger, she and Moody will never be equal. She and her son are enslaved. When their "family" breaks apart in the most brutal and tragic way, and Lucas flees the only life he's ever known, Moody must ask himself whether he has become the man he never wanted to be — but is he willing to hear the answer?

Stretching from the war-torn banks of the Rio Brazos in Texas to the muddy waters of Freedom, Indiana, Moody travels through a country on the brink of civil war, relentlessly searching for Lucas and slowly reconciling his past sins with his hopes for the future. When he meets Tamsey, a former slave, and her family trying to escape the reach of the Fugitive Slave Act, Moody sees an opportunity for redemption. But the world is on the cusp of momentous change, and though some things may be forgotten, nothing is ever really forgiven. (From Doubleday Canada)

From the book

Virgil Moody waded a little ahead of the others as they scouted the Rio Grande east of Fort Paredes. The south and north banks were Mexico, but nobody owned the river. They'd heard General de Ampudia was moving the Mexican army north from Monterrey, intending to cross at Las Anacuitas, and General Taylor wanted to know how many they were and what condition they were in. So far they'd heard Ampudia had from six hundred to a thousand permanentes, with another two hundred infantry coming up to join them, no artillery that anyone knew of, maybe a couple of twelve-pounders. There weren't more than a few hundred Americans at Fort Texas, militiamen like Moody and mostly untrained and badly provisioned volunteers. On patrol that night, splashing behind him, were Stockton Smith, Charlie Warburn, Walt Murdale, Willard Pickart and Jed Baker, with Lieutenant Endicot Millican, their excuse for a captain, bringing up the rear. None of them had any faith in Millican. They went along with him when it didn't mean anything, but when he walked them down open roads or across fields, even in the dark, Moody knew that when the fighting started, they'd follow their own inclinations and to tell with Millican. Moody thought it was safer at the head of the line. He didn't want any part of whatever went on behind him.

From Up From Freedom by Wayne Grady ©2018. Published by Doubleday Canada.

Interviews with Wayne Grady

Wayne Grady on exploring race, identity and family history in his novel Up from Freedom, set in the United States in the mid-1800s.

Other books by Wayne Grady



To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Account Holder

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?