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Under the Tulip Tree

By Michelle Shocklee


Sixteen-year-old Lorena Leland’s dreams of a rich and fulfilling life as a writer are dashed when the stock market crashes in 1929. Seven years into the Great Depression, Rena’s banker father has retreated into the bottle, her sister is married to a lazy charlatan and gambler, and Rena is an unemployed newspaper reporter. Eager for any writing job, Rena accepts a position interviewing former slaves for the Federal Writers’ Project. There, she meets Frankie Washington, a 101-year-old woman whose honest yet tragic past captivates Rena.
As Frankie recounts her life as a slave, Rena is horrified to learn of all the older woman has endured—especially because Rena’s ancestors owned slaves. While Frankie’s story challenges Rena’s preconceptions about slavery, it also connects the two women whose lives are otherwise separated by age, race, and circumstances. But will this bond of respect, admiration, and friendship be broken by a revelation neither woman sees coming?

Book Takeaway:

Everyone has a story, and every story matters.


Year Title Description
2021 Christy Award Finalist Historical category
2021 Selah Award Finalist Historical category

Why the author wrote this book:

While I was researching slavery for my plantation novels, I discovered the Slave Narratives. They left an indelible mark on my heart. In 1936, during the Great Depression, the Federal Writers' Project was created under Roosevelt's New Deal programs. The FWP hired out-of-work writers, teachers, and others with a knack for writing and sent them throughout the southern states with the sole purpose of interviewing former slaves. The war had ended 70 years prior, so these former slaves were aging and their stories would soon be lost if they weren't recorded in some manner. The narratives are moving, honest tales of life in bondage, told in the former slaves' own words and dialects. My hope in writing UNDER THE TULIP TREE is to put a name and face on slavery in a way a third-person narrative in a history book can never achieve.


"Shocklee elevates the redemptive power of remorse and the grace of forgiveness in this moving saga. ~Publishers Weekly"
- Michelle on January 15, 2023

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