Watson, Ruth P. A Right Worthy Woman. New York: Atria Books, 2023.
ISBN-13: 978-1668003022 | $27.99 USD | 304 pages | Historical Fiction
In the vein of The Engineer’s Wife and Carolina Built, an inspiring novel based on the remarkable true story of Virginia’s Black Wall Street and the indomitable Maggie Lena Walker, the daughter of a formerly enslaved woman who became the first Black woman to establish and preside over a bank in the United States.
Maggie Lena Walker was ambitious and unafraid. Her childhood in 19th-century Virginia helping her mother with her laundry service opened her eyes to the overwhelming discrepancy between the Black residents and her mother’s affluent white clients. She vowed to not only secure the same kind of home and finery for herself, but she would also help others in her community achieve the same.
With her single-minded determination, Maggie buckled down and went from schoolteacher to secretary-treasurer of the Independent Order of St. Luke, founder of a newspaper, a bank, and a department store where Black customers were treated with respect. With the help of influential friends like W.E.B. DuBois and Mary McLeod, she revolutionized Richmond in ways that are still felt today. Now, her rich, full story is revealed in this stirring and intimate novel.
I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley and am voluntarily posting a review, All opinions are my own.
A Right Worthy Woman tells the story of Maggie Lena Walker, the first Black woman to start a bank, additionally rising to become the first Black woman to serve as bank president. With this book compared to Carolina Built, it has the similar style of biographical fiction, following Maggie in her rise from “humble” beginnings in post-Civil War Virginia, and how she begins her determined rise to greatness. She had obstacles that stood in her way, but she never let that stop her from trying, starting small and growing from learning how to run a business from her mom to becoming a teacher to establishing and running her own bank.
This book did fall into some of the pitfalls of biographical fiction, where it has a lot of ground to cover in a concise number of pages. It results in some of the story feeling very surface-level, while covering a long period of time. It’s very much a personal preference, but I do sometimes struggle with this style of book for this reason, as it results in there being a level of distance between the reader and the characters. I can appreciate the reasons for why Ruth P. Watson chose to tell the story this way, to capture the major high (and low) points of Maggie’s story, however.
In spite of my personal issues, I enjoyed this book for the most part, and love that love that this book exposed me to Maggie’s life and contributions. If you enjoy biographical historical fiction about lesser known people, especially from Black women’s history, I’d recommend checking this out!
Ruth P. Watson is the author of Blackberry Days of Summer, An Elderberry Fall, Cranberry Winter, and Strawberry Spring. A musical stage play, Blackberry Daze, is based on her debut novel. She is the recipient of the Caversham Fellowship, an artist and writer’s residency in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, where she published her first children’s book in Zulu, Our Secret Bond. She is a freelance writer and member of Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and has written for Upscale, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and other publications. She is an adjunct professor and project manager, who lives with family in Atlanta, Georgia.
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