Skip to main content




In LIBERTIE, celebrated author Kaitlyn Greenidge pens a monumental, imaginative masterpiece of motherhood, self-discovery and freedom.

Libertie Sampson is a young, freeborn Black girl in 19th-century Brooklyn, named for her dead father’s dream of reaching Liberia. Her mother is a powerful, businesslike doctor who takes up a central role in the Ladies’ Intelligence Society, their Reconstruction-era community. She is light-skinned enough to pass in most circumstances, unlike her daughter. She has every intention of ensuring that Libertie follows in her footsteps, pursuing science and medicine, and living a free life of her own making. But to Libertie, that is not freedom. Her heart moves more for music than medicine, and this quickly becomes apparent during the single year that she spends in medical school.

"...a monumental, imaginative masterpiece of motherhood, self-discovery and freedom.... Greenidge writes beautiful, propulsive prose that is lyrical and frank, defiant and revelatory."

So when a young man proposes to Libertie, promising her equality in his home in Haiti, she accepts, believing that this will be its own shape of freedom --- at least it will free her from the shame she expects to endure from her mother when the truth about her failure at medical school surfaces. But though Emmanuel’s community may be all-Black and free in some respects, it is not void of colorism or misogyny. The poison of white supremacy has spread too insidiously for that, and there is a different sort of lack of agency in what is expected of a wife. As she experiences life for the first time apart from her mother, Libertie imagines what true freedom might look like, for herself and the generations of Black women yet to come.

As she did in her debut novel, WE LOVE YOU, CHARLIE FREEMAN, Greenidge clearly demonstrates that she is an expert at her craft. LIBERTIE is inspired by the life of one of the first Black female doctors, Susan Smith McKinney Steward. This is history woven with magic and music, hope sharpened into specificity, a diasporic song brimming with bite, ache and wonder. The voice of the book grows as Libertie does, ever-inquisitive and revelatory. This is a brilliantly rendered, finely tuned, nuanced portrayal of motherhood, love and freedom.  

Freedom is not a fixed point in this book. It never is, really. Black Americans were not free when slavery ended. It means something different to each character, and the tension between those definitions means that they end up hurting each other, often without intention. At the same time, it means that some may attain some semblance of it, in the privacy of their own hearts. Libertie witnesses a shape of freedom in the queer love between her friends, and yearns for the sort of safety and belonging that it seems to offer. Has freedom been envisioned without dominion over something or someone else? What is freedom, Libertie asks herself, when you are not sure who you are?

LIBERTIE reads like an act of love. At its core, it’s about mothers and children, trust and failure, and the shifting process of loving someone who is always learning what it is to become. It’s about building deliberate community out of ash and violence, about Black women making their own choices. It’s an investigation of Libertie steadily losing everything she thought she knew and learning to listen for what she truly wants. It’s a portrait of an artist and a mother, one inextricable from the other. It’s not a sacrifice --- it’s more complex, tangled and chosen than that. It’s the ever-unfolding act of rebuilding, creation and choice. Greenidge writes beautiful, propulsive prose that is lyrical and frank, defiant and revelatory.

Reviewed by Maya Gittelman on April 9, 2021

by Kaitlyn Greenidge

  • Publication Date: March 15, 2022
  • Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books
  • ISBN-10: 1643752588
  • ISBN-13: 9781643752587