If Sons, Then Heirs

imgresLorene Cary, who broke onto the literary landscape…with a beautifully evocative memoir…Black Ice, has written a novel, her third, worthy of that auspicious beginning. It’s set partly in her home town of Philadelphia, and this is a writer who knows her Philadelphia. She knows there are workhorses stabled in the heart of the city, just blocks away from modern high-rises. She is aware that one can get lost on the narrow streets as easily as on the back roads of South Carolina. She also knows the South and the legacy of human frailty that its sons and daughters sometimes drag around like a battered, burned corpse.                                                                                                                  –Tina McElroy Ansa in The Washington Post 

From Amazon:  Called a “well-paced, entertaining novel woven of many strands” by Kirkus Reviews and “a powerful take on family, history” by The Philadelphia Tribune, Lorene Cary’s brilliantly rendered tour de force explores the enduring bonds of blood, love, and the haunting consequences of the past. If Sons, Then Heirs sheds light on the largely untold story of African-American land ownership and racial hatred as seen through the eyes of the Needham family, whose members migrate north from South Carolina following the violent death of their patriarch, King. His devoted widow remains on the old home place to raise the children, but the responsibility to bring the family back together and save the land ultimately falls on King’s great-grandson, Rayne. Cary’s vividly drawn characters face challenges that mirror the experiences of families everywhere, but their distinct and unique voices will stay with readers forever.

Learn more about heir property laws and solutions at Center for Heirs Property Preservation.


FREE! Great Escapes on the Underground Railroad

Free! cover jpeg


“Lorene Cary is a deft, focused writer.  Free! is yet another example of her ability to tell the astounding, immutable truth of what it means to be human.”

Diane McKinney-Whetstone



Lorene Cary’s first young adult book, FREE!, is a collection of non-fiction stories of America’s Underground Railroad as compelling as the history they chronicle. Cary breathes life into accounts of slave escapes documented by William Still, co-chair of the Vigilance Committee of the Pennsylvania Committee for the Abolition of Slavery. Still himself was the son of an escaped slave, and the heartbreaking story of his mother’s daring escape is among the stories included.  Readers run with real people who once risked all for the chance to be their own masters: through darkness, freezing cold, desperate hunger, and bone-weary fatigue. A husband and wife plan an elaborate costumed ruse;  one woman mails herself in a box; others flee by ship, on the rails, on horseback, on foot, fueled by sheer will.

FREE! was distributed by Third World Press and reissued in September 2011 by New City Community Press  through Temple University Press. The e-book version was released February 2013 with a special download promotion generously sponsored by comedian Kevin Hart.

Educators can also download the FREE Curriculum Guide, written by historian-educator Jackie Wiggins.


The Price of a Child

url“’The Price of A Child’ is a book seared by a sense of mission… But there is nothing preachy about her narrative style. She is a powerful storyteller, frankly sensual, mortally funny, gifted with an ear for the pounce and ragged inconsequentiality of real speech and an eye for the shifts and subterfuges by which ordinary people get by.”                      Francine Prose in The New York Times Book Review


In 1855, Ginnie Pryor, once cook, mistress, and slave to a Virginia planter, walks away from her furious master and into the embrace of a delegation of Philadelphia’s Vigilance Committee. With freedom comes a new name, Mercer Gray, new pleasures, including adoption into a boisterous family of free-born blacks, and new responsibilities as a speaker on the abolition circuit. But United States law still considers her a white man’s property. And her baby Bennie remains hostage in Virginia, subject to all the cruelties that Mercer has escaped. Suspenseful, raucously funny, and pulsing with the life of a vanished black America, The Price of a Child is an intimate epic of bondage and liberty by a writer with a true voice and heroic powers of imaginative reconstruction.

Lorene Cary researched The Price of a Child in part at The Library Company of Philadelphia with help from searchLibrarian Phil Lapsansky, now retired. Click here to learn more from the Library Company about the real liberation of Jane Johnson, the woman who inspired Mercer Gray.  Other research treasures in Philadelphia: The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, The Free Library of Philadelphia, Van Pelt Library of the University of Pennsylvania, The Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection at Temple University, The Rosenbach Museum and Library

“How does it feel to write a book that makes people cry?”  11th grade student at Mastbaum High during One Book One Philadelphia.




I was on a mission — we all were, our set, our little pride, as one of our teachers at Girls’ High called us, us four lionesses lying out on our rock in the sun, watching the water hole, just seeing what was going to turn up for us. That makes it sound like we were going to gobble up whoever came along, but too bad how it sounds.”

Excerpt from Pride


With Pride, Cary introduce us to four accomplished, passionate, and thoroughly down-to-earth African American women whose lifelong friendship is about to take some unexpected turns. There’s Roz,the sharp-tongued politician’s wife, who’s trying to keep her family together as she recovers from breast cancer and her husband runs for the biggest election of his career.  There’s the fiery and fiercely independent Tam, avoiding commitment both in her career and in her sexually combustive affairs with men. There’s Arneatha, an Episcopal priest, to whom the friends look for moral guidance, but who has felt hollow since the early death of her husband. And there’s Audrey, talented, caring, who has to battle back from alcohol addiction.  Lorene Cary takes us into the lives of these remarkable women with verve and humor, capturing their outspoken voices, their most heartfelt emotions, and their unfailing humanity. Funny, juicy, pulsing with life and love. Pride is an unforgettable novel.


Black Ice


“Probably the most beautifully written and the most moving African-American autobiography since Maya Angelou’s I Know why the Caged Bird Sings.”                                                                                   Arnold Rampersad

Clear and glittering as a New Hampshire lake in winter, Black Ice is an education in itself.               –Henry Louis Gates, Jr.


In 1972 Lorene Cary was transplanted into the formerly all-white, all-male environs of the elite Saint Paul’s School in New Hampshire, where she became a scholarship student in a “boot camp” for future American leaders. Like any good student, she was determined to succeed. But Cary was also determined to succeed without selling out. This wonderfully frank and perspective memoir describes the perils and ambiguities of that doubt role, in which failing calculus and winning a student election could both be interpreted as betrayals of one’s skin. Black Ice is also a universally recognizable document of a woman’s adolescence; it is, as intellectual Houston Baker says, “a journey into selfhood that resonates with sober reflection, intelligent passion, and joyous love.”

Colleges and high schools feature Black Ice on their syllabi. Educators, click here for Random House Academic Resources. Their Teachers’ Guide aims “to guide your students in their approach to Black Ice as a work of literature and a highly personal document. It should enrich the students’ understanding of race relations in this country and of the unsettling experience of being black in a predominantly white culture, and inspire them to examine their own lives and the values and customs of the community they inhabit.”


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