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




Maria (nee Miller )Stewart was the first woman to speak before a “promiscuous” audience, i.e. men and women, black and white in early 19th century America. She was the first African-American woman to lecture about women’s rights. Stewart focused particularly on the rights of black women, religion, and social justice among black people. She also became the first African-American woman to make public anti-slavery speeches and is one of the first African-American women to make public lectures for which there are still surviving copies.
Maria Stewart newspaper
“Most of our color have dragged out a miserable existence of servitude from the cradle to the grave. And what literary acquirements can be made, or useful knowledge derived, from either maps, books or charm, by those who continually drudge from Monday morning until Sunday noon? O, ye fairer sisters, whose hands are never soiled, whose nerves and muscles are never strained, go learn by experience! Had we had the opportunity that you have had, to improve our moral and mental faculties, what would have hindered our intellects from being as bright, and our manners from being as dignified as yours?… And why are not our forms as delicate, and our constitutions as slender, as yours? Is not the workmanship as curious and complete? Have pity upon us, have pity upon us, O ye who have hearts to feel for other’s woes; for the hand of God has touched us. Owing to the disadvantages under which we labor, there are many flowers among us that are…born to bloom unseen.
Stewart’s address in 1832 at Boston’s Franklin Hall, is notable in that Stewart used it to support a vision of black nationalism. Framed as a “black jeremiad”, Stewart’s speech followed in the tradition of the jeremiad as a rhetorical device in American discourse and refers to the prophet Jeremiah, author of the book of Lamentations.  It is a melancholy disputation and it embodies warnings of further judgment and greater sufferings to come. Maria Stewart’s “black jeremiad” then was a means by which a black American woman warned whites of “the judgment that was to come for the sin of slavery.”
For more background on Maria Stewart’s 1832 speech: http://archive.vod.umd.edu/civil/stewart1832int.htm
Link here for pix and info about Maria Stewart and six other women whose feminism was necessarily radicalized by the simple act of standing up and speaking out as Black women. http://bit.ly/1zRHA7O
Read a book of Maria Stewart’s speeches

Maria W. Stewart, America's first Black woman political writer : essays and speeches

I’m old enough to have remembered the events as portrayed in Ava Duverney’s film, “Selma.” Everything about the film seemed pitch perfect to me though I realized while watching that the lesson, for me, was that we Americans do not see things in the same ways. I can’t actually explain why this continues to surprise me. I remember the excitement of MLK’s speeches. I remember his words as  always reasonable, charitable, intelligent.  When I recall  that people didn’t agree, that some people still don’t, I still shake my head  in disbelief.

Kudos to Ms. Duverney for her beautiful film. Like so many Black women artists before her, she has made a way from no way.

Civil Rights marchers Selma to Montgomery

Civil Rights marchers on Edmund Pettus Bridge

For Your FEBRUARY enrichment read: 
for more information about Breena Clarke’s books: www.BreenaClarke.com

FE-BROO-AIR-EE is Black History Month

Dr. Carter G. Woodson

Dr. Carter G. Woodson

I always get a lift in spirits when February comes around because it’s Black History Month. I enjoy the special programming and the unabashed celebration of the history of African people in the Americas.

Dr. Carter G. Woodson was the honored ancestor who. launched Negro History Week in 1926. Woodson chose the second week of February because it falls between the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. This observance evolved into Black History Month in 1976. Known for writing the contributions of black Americans into the national spotlight, Woodson received a Ph.D at Harvard University;  founded the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History in 1915;  founded the Journal of Negro History in 1916 and is the author of the book, “The Miseducation of the Negro“, published in 1933.
Read, re-read or introduce a friend to my three historical novels:

Breena Clarke's books

Breena Clarke’s books

LINK HERE TO see AMAZON’S SPECIAL DEALS  on select African American Historical fiction including
STAND THE STORM : http://amzn.to/1Drumxm
ANGELS MAKE THEIR HOPE HERE imagines a community that many, even today, would think improbable if not impossible. Dossie is rescued from slavery by Duncan Smoot, a conductor on the Underground Railroad, who gives her refuge in just such an improbable, but possible place, the town of Russell’s Knob, New Jersey.
” . . . the novel swiftly goes from idyllic to horrific but told throughout in language that gives us the verbal music of the period and the soulful reality of this little community of outliers. “Angels Make Their Hope Here” – this tribute to old Jersey is well worth your time.”
            Alan Cheuse, NPR – listen to the full review http://n.pr/UogWl0 
                                             ALL THINGS CONSIDERED on NPR
STAND THE STORM is set in Civil War era Washington  D.C. and it illumines the lives of a self-emancipated tailor, his indomitable mother, his wife and children.
“An evocative,historically rich book that brings the turbulent Civil war period alive”
             TIME Magazine
RIVER, CROSS MY HEART is the story of a young girl’s life in the African American community of Washington, D.C.’s Georgetown neighborhood in the early 20th century.
“A genuine masterpiece . .  Full of grace and beauty and profound insights . . .”
            Michael Sheldon, Baltimore Sun




Seasons greetings 2012



Cheryl and Breena



  Breena and Victoria


Edna Clarke & Luise Jeter

   Edna Mae and Ludy


I’m recapping, summing up, pulling up my socks and getting ready for the New Year. Below are links to blogposts, videos, highlights, images and related materials for ANGELS MAKE THEIR HOPE HERE.

ANGELS MAKE THEIR HOPE HERE  blog posts:http://bit.ly/1vimpLq



WEEKEND EDITION SATURDAY on NPR, talking about the People of Russell’s Knob:

Listen to an excerpt of the audiobook edition of ANGELS MAKE THEIR HOPE HERE, read by Love Carter:

View Breena Clarke and Helmar Cooper reading from ANGELS MAKE THEIR HOPE HERE:


Look at some of the images I’ve collected in reference to ANGELS MAKE THEIR HOPE HERE:


Other novels by Breena Clarke:

to read an excerpt of STAND THE STORM: http://bit.ly/T2KRhy

to read an excerpt of RIVER, CROSS MY HEART :http://bit.ly/1nx172Q