Our Trespasses


StewartMaria_132Prior to the great personal watershed of 1849 when he rescued my mother, then a child, Duncan Smoot was known on the underground circuit as The Moses of Octoraro Creek. Because of his exploits, he was well respected amongst those who knew and emulated the brave ones who worked to free people from slavery. However, in the course of rescuing Mother, he did something that curtailed his effectiveness as a conductor and troubled him for some time after.

from The Moses of Octoraro Creek by Breena Clarke, published in issue #5 STONECOAST REVIEW,  http://www.stonecoastreview.org a literary arts journal published biannually by students and alumni from the Stonecoast MFA in Creative Writing (University of Southern Maine). Breena Clarke is a member of the fiction faculty at Stonecoast. for more about the Stonecoast MFA in Creative Writing: http://www.stonecoastreview.org/our-staff/

read the story: http://bit.ly/28KVhj9


IMG_3709  Breena Clarke’s books are available in all formats.

Support your local bookstore, find it on Indiebound and order these titles today  www.indiebound.orgwww.indiebound.org

River, Cross My Heart

Stand The Storm

Angels Make Their Hope Here

for more information about Breena Clarke’s books: www.BreenaClarke.com




Our Father’s Days


She called him John Cleary. She was a sweet gal and she risked her life for me and the boy was mine. He was a cute little bastard.

Enter the mind of the bounty hunter, James Cleary. Read Breena Clarke’s riveting account,   “The People Catcher: Mr. Woolfolk’s Bounty” online at KWELI Journal, Truth From The Diaspora’s Boldest Voices        http://bit.ly/1ZcWlvG

Fugitives i color

for more information about Breena Clarke’s work: www.BreenaClarke.com

13th National Black Writers Conference

Books, Banter, Badinage, Brooklyn: talking about the Literature of the African Diaspora
Breena Professional Photo

I’m pleased and honored to be participating in the 



Thursday, March 31 – Sunday, April 3, 2016

on the campus of Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn. NY

presented by The Center for Black Literature

The mission of the Center for Black Literature is to expand, broaden, and enrich the public’s knowledge and aesthetic appreciation of the value of Black literature. This upcoming national conference will do just that. There are four full days of events featuring writers discussing their work, their lives and the issues that are relevant to contemporary life and the African peoples’ presence. 

Former Poet Laureate, Rita Dove is Honorary Chair of the conference and Edwidge Danticat, Woodie King Jr., Michael Eric Dyson & Charles Johnson are 2016 NBWC HONOREES

I’ll be part of a panel with Coe Booth, D. Watkins and Michael Datcher discussing: Shaping Memories: The Odyssey to Adulthood, Sunday, April 3rd 3:00p – 4:15pm. 

We’ll be discussing our work and the themes and moral values that inform the often fraught journey from youth to adulthood for young people of African descent in the Americas. 

 To register and to see the complete schedule, link here:


http://bit.ly/1LS1jwb  – link here for a complete list of writers participating in the 13th National Black Writers Conference.

Sisterhood on the Road

JournalingOne image of the novelist or poet is as a solitary figure trussed up in angst and identity and typing feverishly through the night. Most of a novel is written in a writer’s own inspirational cave though, a place with comforts and demons and solitude. But solitude can turn into isolation and isolation is antithetical to the ultimate outcome of writing a novel: readers, audiences, followers. The antidote to isolation is community.

Catskills landscape

In the fall of 2012, My sister, Cheryl and I began to plan a Festival for Women Writers in a one-of-a-kind village in the western Catskills, Hobart, NY, The Reading Capital of New York State and an authentic Book Village. The Hobart Book Village Festival of Women Writers debuted in Fall 2013. One of the nicest aspects of our Festival’s creation is that we didn’t bring community to Hobart. It already had camaraderie and enthusiasm about books and the arts and six independent book stores. We’ve brought women from the tri-state (NY, NJ & CT) area and across the country  with published work in poetry, fiction and non-fiction in all genres to read, offer workshops and sell their books on the weekend following Labor Day.  Along the way through three successful annual Festivals and in planning our fourth, we’ve made connections with a dazzling group of women who write.

LOGO 2016

Link here for a complete list of the outstanding women who will be Participating Writers for Festival of Women Writers 2016


Breena and Cheryl Clarke

Breena and Cheryl Clarke, co-organizers of HBV Festival of Women Writers

 I happy to say that I’ll be attending the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers 2016 for the first time this March. The Berkshire Festival is in its sixth year and like, Hobart Book Village Festival of Women Writers, offers a beautiful highland locale and enthusiastic engagement with the written word.


At the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers, we’re always looking to expand our mission of nourishing the voices and visions of women of all ages and from many walks of life. Why is this important? Because the world needs the creative energy and vision of women now more than ever, and creative women need community to be fully activated and confident in their own work.

Berkshire Festival of Women Writers 2016

On March 12, 2016, 1:30p – 3:30p – I will join Cheryl Clarke, Mary Johnson and Esther Cohen for a panel discussion, An Unquenchable Thirst For Writing.

Cheryl Clarke, http://www.cherylclarkepoet.com/about/the author of four books of poetry, the critical study, After Mecca: Women Poets and the Black Arts Movement (2005), and her collected works The Days of Good Looks: Prose and Poetry 1980-2005 (2006). After a distinguished career at Rutgers University, she co-founded The Hobart Book Village Festival of Women Writers and is author of the upcoming collection, By My Precise Haircut. 

Mary Johnson www.maryjohnson.co will read from her memoir, An Unquenchable Thirst, named one of 2011’s best by Kirkus Review and winner of the New Hampshire Literary Award for nonfiction. One of the founders of A Room Of Her Own Foundation, Mary served for more than a decade as Creative Director of Retreats for AROHO.

Esther Cohen, http://esthercohen.com/ the author of Don’t Mind Me: And Other Jewish Lies with illustrations by Roz Chast; the novels No Charge for Looking and Book Doctor; and two volumes of poetry,God Is a Tree and prayerbook, began Unseen America, an ongoing project in which homecare workers, migrants, nannies, and others among the working class tell their life stories through the photographs they take in their daily lives. She will read from her new collection of poems, I’m Getting Older.

And . . . Breena Clarke  www.BreenaClarke.com will read from her novel, Angels Make Their Hope Here, the story of a young girl’s harrowing journey to free herself and the complex, charismatic man who conducts her to Russell’s Knob, a haven for runaways in 19th century New Jersey.

We’re going to be discussing the Sisterhood of Writing and how we built and continue to build our writing communities through organizing Festivals and Retreats and creative opportunities for women writers.  We four have had varied careers and write in a variety of genres and styles. There are a lot of gates into the city of writing and we’ve each come through differently.

Why do we need Festivals for Women Writers? Writers are writers, right? And the best of them, whatever gender, will be well-read and successful, right? Sadly, no. Women are underrepresented in Literary magazines, book publishing and prizes. Check out:  VIDA COUNT Monthly update

Each year The VIDA Count compiles over 1000 data points from the top tier, or “Tier 1” journals, publications, and press outlets by which the literary community defines and rewards its most valued arts workers, the “feeders” for grants, teaching positions, residencies, fellowships, further publication, and ultimately, propagation of artists’ work within the literary community. about VIDA COUNT

Also at The Berkshire Festival of Women Writers on Saturday, March 12 @10am – 12pm will be the electrifying Esther Cohen and Good Stories: The Deep Red Heart Of Life  a workshop for story lovers and story makers who want to make their own stories better.

Writing festivals and retreats offer enrichment opportunities that may have been, in the past, inaccessible for a lot of women who write and who aspire to be published writers. The workshop experience can be especially valuable if you didn’t come through an MFA program or you’ve spent twenty years behind a desk. These annual and bi-annual Festivals are organized geographically, but they’re supported and nurtured by social media and that gives them global possibilities.




Halloween in Georgetown

IMG_0598   “Maybe in some other cities or towns Halloween was a holiday for children only, but Georgetowners of every age costumed themselves and walked up and down the M street thoroughfare. A great many folks, big and little, smeared charcoal or talcum on their faces and stuck their heads through holes in old sheets. Lester Gorson stood on his regular shoe-shine corner with the battered silk top hat he wore every year. Across his mouth, he wore a red bandana.

“The rich people’s Halloween was a night of fancy parties and carriages down by horses with plumed headdresses. The Chesters up on R street were throwing their usual big Colonial costume ball and had hired Snow Simpson to wear a white powdered wig, a silk jacket, and knickers of robin’s-egg blue. He stood on the portico bowing the guests through the house’s grand columns and into the vestibule. Knots of costumed colored children paused on the south side of the street and peeped through the doors and windows to glimpse guests and the massive gold and crystal chandelier in the foyer. Jonnie Mae and the others in her group laughed at Snow from across the street on their way to the cemetery. Duck Dudley lobbed crab apples at Snow’s wig. The first crab apple hit the center of the oak door, but the second caught Snow upside his head and knocked the powdered wig sideways. The group ran off laughing at Snow trying to settle the thing back on his coal black head. 

“It had been the tradition from as far back as any of the families could remember that on Halloween the costumed children trooped up to the Mount Zion cemetery to tempt fate by running and hollering like banshees among the oldest headstones. 

“Press Parker stood ith his back against a tree that had been propping people up since before the Flood. He watched as he did every Halloween to see that none of the headstones got toppled in all the chasing and hoorawing. He kept an eye on the torches and the littles ones so that no one crawled into a crypt playing hide-and-seek and got suffocated like the little Henderson baby had back in ’09.

“Press was sure the bones didn’t mind some company one day a year, They hadn’t heard the sound of children’s feet slapping on top of their heads since last Halloween.”

from “River, Cross My Heart” by Breena Clarke

to read another excerpt of this Oprah book club selection and know about the other novels by Breena Clarke link here: http://www.breenaclarke.com/content/books.asp

This book is available in all formats


Breena Clarke's books

Breena Clarke’s books

Oh! stand the storm, it won’t be long


The African American Civil War Memorial in Washington, D.C. for more information on the Memorial and Museum: http://www.afroamcivilwar.org

Oh! stand the storm, it won’t be long

We’ll anchor by and by

Stand the storm, it won’t be long

We’ll anchor by and by

———traditional spiritual

I chose to set my second novel, “Stand The Storm”  at mid-nineteenth century in Washington, D.C. because there is an appetite for perspectives and narratives of the Civil War and I was curious about home life in my home town during the conflict. Once again and as always, the narrative of North vs. South, slavery vs. freedom and the lingering symbols of the conflict such as the Confederate Battle Flag and the rise of the KKK are in the news with the Church Massacre in Charleston, S.C. on July 17th.


And what of the so-called contrabands — those slaves following the Union soldiers into town?  Every artery in and out of town was choked with them.

Destitute was how most of them arrived — trudging, slogging, and dragging. Descriptions in the papers of slaves fleeing at the advance of the Union army sounded like an account of dandies on parade. They were said to be preening themselves and promenading down the thoroughfares of Washington decked out in frothy skirts, scarlet frock coats and gray hats festooned with feathers.

But the true picture was something else. The women trudged with their arms tugging at stumbling children, and children taller than a hickory stump were carrying babes on their backs. A common sight was a man who had made himself into a mule by putting a strap on his forehead so that he could carry his old grandpa or grandmam on his back. Step upon step he would lug the old one, who was yet mere bones sparsely covered with skin. If they had worn a fine coat when they left, it had been stripped away long before reaching the banks of the Potomac or the Eastern Branch. Even if they came from nearby, they had likely crisscrossed these places again and again — hiding and running from hostile irregulars. Most that Annie saw arrive were barely clothed and long time away from their vittles.

excerpt of “Stand The Storm” by Breena Clarke
“The National Archives, in cooperation with FamilySearch International, a subsidiary of the  Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Smithsonian Institution, is releasing 1.5 million digitized images that contain the names of up to 4 million former slaves collected by agents of the Freedman’s Bureau at the end of the Civil War.” – Hamil R. Harris in Wash. Post

Freedmen’s Bureau Records of 4 million former slaves released today. read more: http://wapo.st/1BEF4oA

The Freedmen’s Bureau, headed by Union Army General, Oliver O. Howard https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oliver_O._Howard  started operations in 1865. Throughout the first year, its representatives learned that their task would be very difficult, as conservative Southerners passed laws or Black Codes that restricted movement, the conditions of paid labor, and other civil rights of recently emancipated African Americans, nearly duplicating the conditions of slavery. (Wikipedia) Rallying under the banner of the Confederate Battle Flag, the KuKluxKlan formed and proliferated across the South to intimidate the Freedmen.

Learn more about African Americans in Civil War Washington, D.C. Read “Stand The Storm” link for more information, excerpts and links to purchase a copy at: http://bit.ly/BuyBreenaClarkeBooks

Breena Clarke reads from “Stand The Storm”: http://bit.ly/1OLoTeM