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Meet the Early 1900s Version of ‘The Real Housewives of The Potomac’ 

Booze, scandal, sordid affairs, Black bourgeoisie and White (House) privilege. We’re giving away American Daughters, a new historical novel about marvelous, messy women by Piper Huguley. 

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photos of American Daughters novel and author Piper Huguley
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Readers who devoured Huguley’s previous historical novel, By Her Own Design: A Novel of Ann Lowe,Fashion Designer to the Social Register, will love her latest deep dive into Black high society in the 20thcentury. Below, I’ll share her publisher’s synopsis, my fascinating email chat with Huguley and I’ll tell you how to enter for a chance to win a free copy!

image of american daughters novel

From the publisher, William Morrow:

At the dawn of the twentieth century, more than thirty years after the end of slavery, the chasm separating white and Black Americans remained daunting. Within high society, it was regarded as most unusual, if not scandalous, for a white woman to be seen in the company of a Black woman other than her maid. In 1901, there were few women like President Theodore Roosevelt’s eldest, outspoken daughter and the accomplished woman she claimed as her dearest friend, the only daughter of esteemed educator Booker T. Washington.

Told in the first person from the alternating perspectives of Alice and Portia, American Daughters follows the two friends through three decades of changes and challenges—personal, societal, and political. While drawing readers deeply into the story of each woman’s life, Piper Huguley offers a vivid, richly detailed portrait of their times, including the prevailing oppressive views about a woman’s “place” and the brutal realities of racism, even for a prominent, well-educated, light-skinned man like the founder of the Tuskegee Institute.

Through struggles with marriage and pregnancies, heartaches and betrayals, bold risks, agonizing choices, devastating losses, quiet joys, and jubilant triumphs, Alice and Portia support, console, and champion one another through their frequent letters, treasured visits, and milestone moments—including walking together, hand in hand, at the Women’s Suffrage March on Washington in 1913. Readers will cheer on these two remarkable women until American Daughters culminates in 1930, with Alice and Portia as close as ever and at peace with themselves.

Click here to enter for a chance to win a copy of American Daughters

Check out what Piper Huguley told Sisters:

These besties weren’t supposed to be friends. Why were they? 

They had so many factors in common that rose above racial heritage: eldest daughters of great men who paid them little attention, the loss of mothers when they were so young they had no memory of them, stepmothers who resented them, and the intense focus of many in the nation who expected them to be showcases for their father's legacies. Of course they would be friends! The sad part of it was that their friendship could not be public due to the expectations of the day.

How did you become interested in these historical figures many of us never heard about? 

I've been writing about the Washingtons for a long time now and I have an on-going interest in presidential history, especially in the Black people who were in the orbits of the presidents. John McCain, in his concession speech to Barack Obama referred to the blow up when Booker T. Washington became the first Black man to go to dinner at the White House. That reference led me to a book about it called Guest of Honor where that author pointed out that at some point during the dinner, Theodore Roosevelt and his dinner companion might have traded notes about their rebel oldest teenage daughters who were driving them crazy!

The phrase “poor little rich girl” comes to mind when I think about these characters. What are the contours of their privilege and pain? 

The biggest one, I think, has to do with the problem they both have in finding marriage partners who could measure up to their fathers, an impossible task. They did the best they could, but the husband search for both of them was doomed to fail. The other problem was because of that intense focus on them both, they could not do as they wanted to do in their search for meaningful lives. One early reviewer wondered what their lives might have been like if they had been born one hundred years later, and that's the question, in my opinion.

There’s so much going on socially and politically in their journeys that echoes American women’s lives in centuries past. What are some of the emotional touch points readers might reckon with as they explore this story? 

How difficult it is for both of them to step out of their fathers' large, overwhelming spotlights to be individuals, and I do mean that in the fullest sense of the word, on their own. I think a lot of people who are children of amazing people who accomplished a lot can relate to this struggle.

Both Alice and Portia are examples of what we now call "Nepo Babies," people who have gained fame, either rightfully or wrongly because of their famous lineage. Yes, most people aren't nepo babies, but the public still follows them, fascinated to see if their children have inherited any looks, talent, or anything else good from their ancestors. One of my long-standing questions about that has always been, what if you don't get those things or what if you aren't as amazing as your ancestor? Then what? How does someone find their own individuality? I honestly think that is the biggest emotional touch point there is: who am I on my own?

Can we also expect moments of scandal, surprise, and raucous laughter? Do tell. 

Yes! I see a lot of historical readers wish for reads that might make them laugh, and I think American Daughters is suitable, even through the ups and downs that Alice and Portia have to endure. And they both went through a lot of mess, so messy people will be able to enjoy their story too! Alice and Portia could certainly be cast on an episode of RHOP (Real Housewives of the Potomac) because of adultery, abuse, alcoholism and ensuing scandal experienced between the two of them.

Click here to enter for a chance to win a copy of American Daughters

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