The Good Lord Bird

Winner, National Book Awards 2013 for Fiction

The Good Lord Bird, by James McBride book cover
ISBN 9781594486340
Riverhead Books/Penguin Group USA
James McBride
James McBride

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Henry Shackleford is a young slave living in the Kansas Territory in 1857, when the region is a battleground between anti- and pro-slavery forces. When John Brown, the legendary abolitionist, arrives in the area, an argument between Brown and Henry’s master quickly turns violent. Henry is forced to leave town—with Brown, who believes he’s a girl.

Over the ensuing months, Henry—whom Brown nicknames Little Onion—conceals his true identity as he struggles to stay alive. Eventually Little Onion finds himself with Brown at the historic raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859—one of the great catalysts for the Civil War.

An absorbing mixture of history and imagination, and told with McBride’s meticulous eye for detail and character, The Good Lord Bird is both a rousing adventure and a moving exploration of identity and survival.

Judges Citation

James McBride’s novel takes a pivotal, troubled sequence in American history—John Brown’s abolitionist campaign—and retells it in a voice as comic and original as any we have heard since Mark Twain. The narrator is one Henry Shackleford, aka Onion, an escaped teenaged slave who accompanies Brown while disguised as a girl. Fondly portraying Brown as a well-meaning but unhinged zealot, The Good Lord Bird is daringly irreverent, but also wise, funny, and affecting.

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James McBride Accepts the 2013 National Book Award in Fiction for The Good Lord Bird


James McBride reads from The Good Lord Bird, 2013 NBA Finalists Reading

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