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Out August 20, 2024

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A riveting, adventurous novel inspired by the life of pioneer aviatrix Bessie Coleman, a Black woman who learned to fly at the dawn of aviation and found freedom in the air

A few years after the Wright brothers’ first flight, Bessie was working the Texas cotton fields with her family when an airplane flew over their heads. It buzzed so low she thought she could catch it in her hands. Bessie was fearless. She knew there was freedom in those wings.

The daughter of a woman born into slavery, Bessie answers the call of the Great Migration. She moves to Chicago, where she wins the backing of two wealthy, powerful Black men: Robert Abbott, creator and publisher of the Chicago Defender, and Jesse Binga, the founder of Chicago’s first Black bank. Abbott becomes her mentor, while Binga becomes her lover. Her first love, though, remains the airplane.

But in 1920, no one in the United States will train a Black woman to fly. So, twenty-eight-year-old Bessie learns to speak French and sets off to Europe. Two years ahead of Amelia Earhart, Bessie earns her pilot's license, and later learns death-defying stunts from French and German dogfighting combat pilots.

While she finds no prejudice in the air, Bessie wrestles other challenges on the ground. A plane crash nearly kills her, her brothers seem to be crumbling under the weight of Jim Crow, and, while grappling with tough truths about Binga, Bessie begins to wonder if the freedom she finds in the sky means she must otherwise fly solo.

With tenderness and mastery, Carole Hopson imagines the breathtaking moxie Bessie Coleman harnessed in order to lift herself out of poverty and become known as “Queen Bess.”

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