Book Club: Get to know Nikole Hannah-Jones and ‘The 1619 Project’

Nikole Hannah-Jones and Kevin Merida
(James Estrin/One World; Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the L.A. Times Book Club newsletter.

This month we’re immersed in “The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story,” a sweeping and eye-opening history of slavery and its legacy in America today.

Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, who created the project and writes about racial injustice for the New York Times Magazine, will join us for a conversation with Los Angeles Times Executive Editor Kevin Merida on Nov. 30. The event will be held at the California African American Museum next to USC. Get tickets.


In advance of book club night, Hannah-Jones shared some of her favorite books, music and other diversions.

Favorite novel: “The Known World” by Edward P. Jones

Favorite writer: W.E.B. Du Bois

Last book that kept me up at night: “The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois” (a novel by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers)

Favorite childhood book: “The Ways of White Folks” by Langston Hughes

Favorite music right now: So much great R&B, listening to Tems, Lucky Daye, Doja Cat, Normani, Summer Walker, Giveon, Mac Ayres.

Best movie lately: Just watched “Nomadland” while on a Delta flight. It was kind of amazing.

TV that got me through the pandemic: “Tiger King,” of course. My daughter and I spent many nights watching “Anne of Green Gables” together, “Law & Order” reruns, “Dateline” murder mysteries, “Living Single” reruns. I am obsessed with “Dopesick,” “Snowfall” and “Impeached.”

Craziest thing I’ve done to get a story: A reporter does not reveal her secrets.

Something I discovered since the pandemic: I am an even worse procrastinator than I already knew I was.

What’s not on my resume (that says a lot about me): That I started working at 13 so that I could buy my own school clothes and savings bonds, and that I worked two jobs until I was 30 years old.

Next project: All “1619 Project” all the time.

About the book

“The 1619 Project” arrives in bookstores on Nov. 16. In the meantime, here are four things to know.


The backstory. The book began as a newspaper series. “I made a simple pitch to my editors: The New York Times should create a special issue that would explore the unparalleled impact of African slavery on the development of our country and its continuing impact on our society,” Hannah-Jones writes in the book’s preface. “The project would bring slavery and the contributions of Black Americans from the margins of the American story to the center, where they belong, by arguing that slavery and its legacy have profoundly shaped modern American life, even as that influence had been shrouded or discounted.” The 2019 series sparked debate and new classroom curricula, and became part of the national discourse as the nation grappled with the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other Black Americans.

The book. Building on the series, the 624-page book includes expanded essays as well as new fiction, poetry and photography. “The 1619 Project” opens with a poem by Claudia Rankin about the Virginia arrival of the White Lion, a ship bearing a cargo of 20 to 30 enslaved people from Africa in August 1619 — a year before the Mayflower landing celebrated in history books. The book ends with “Progress Report,” a poem by Sonia Sanchez about Floyd’s death and the 2020 protest movement it spawned. “Just like the original project, the book relies heavily on historical scholarship, but is not a conventional history,” Hannah-Jones writes. “Instead it combines history with journalism, criticism, and imaginative literature, to show how history molds, influences, and haunts us in the present.”

The contributors. Hannah-Jones, who established the new Center for Journalism and Democracy at Howard University, is one of many voices behind “The 1619 Project,” which addresses race, democracy, dispossession, capitalism, citizenship, church, medicine, music and more. Other contributors include Jamelle Bouie, Matthew Desmond, Nikky Finney, Vievee Francis, Yaa Gyasi, Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, Barry Jenkins, Ibram X. Kendi, Kiese Laymon, Tracy K. Smith, Bryan Stevenson, Nafissa Thompson-Spires, Natasha Trethewey and Jesmyn Ward. Bestselling Los Angeles author Terry McMillan, who contributed “From Behind the Counter,” will read at our Nov. 30 event.

The children’s story: “The 1619 Project: Born on the Water” is an illustrated picture book. It tells the story of a girl who receives a family tree assignment in school and turns to her grandmother to learn about the history of her ancestors. Hannah-Jones teamed up with author Renée Watson and illustrator Nikkolas Smith to create the companion book.

What questions do you have for Nikole Hannah-Jones? Send questions and comments in advance of the Book Club/Ideas Exchange event in an email to

What’s next

On Nov. 10 Times photographer and correspondent Marcus Yam will discuss his Afghanistan assignment during a special edition of Ask a Reporter presented in partnership with Arizona State University. One of the few outside journalists in Kabul as the Taliban swept to power and American forces retreated, Yam chronicled refugee evacuations, stories of women in hiding, and a U.S. drone strike that mistakenly killed civilians. Yam will be in conversation with Times foreign and national editor Jeffrey Fleishman at 7 p.m. PT at ASU’s new California Center in the Herald Examiner building downtown. Sign up on Eventbrite.

On Nov. 17, columnist Bill Plaschke discusses his career as a sports writer and his book “Paradise Found: A High School Football Team Rises from the Ashes“ with Times Executive Sports Editor Christian Stone. The 6 p.m. Ask a Reporter event will be livestreaming on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. Sign up.

Bestselling author Ann Patchett will discuss "These Precious Days" with Times columnist Steve Lopez on Dec. 9, 2021
(Heidi Ross/Harper)

On Dec. 9 bestselling writer and indie bookstore owner Ann Patchett, author of the upcoming collection “These Precious Days” and the recent novel “The Dutch House” will be in conversation with Times columnist Steve Lopez. Sign up for this virtual book club evening on Eventbrite.

Keep reading: “These Precious Days” and “The 1619 Project” are among 11 books on reporter Dorany Pineda’s November reading list.

P.S. Check out the 2021 Times Holiday Gift Guide, which includes suggestions for books, food, adventures and much more.

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