John Murray snaps up debut Memphis in five-way auction

John Murray snaps up debut Memphis in five-way auction

John Murray has snapped up an American debut, Memphis, based on Tara Stringfellow’s "extraordinary" family history, in a five-way auction for a "strong" five-figure sum.

Becky Walsh, commissioning editor at John Murray, acquired UK and Commonwealth rights, excluding Canada, for the book from Caspian Dennis at Abner Stein, in association with H G Literary in New York. North American rights went to Katy Nishimoto at Dial Press from Soumeya Bendimerad Roberts at H G Lit, for a six-figure sum following a "heated" auction. John Murray will publish Memphis in hardback in summer 2021, supported by a "big" publicity and marketing campaign.

Memphis promises to be "a deeply felt bildungsroman based on the extraordinary heritage of civil rights in Tara Stringfellow's family, a history that unleashed a legacy of trauma and resilience".

Mixing fiction with fact, the book tells her family’s history in the city of Memphis, including how her grandfather was the first black detective in Memphis (and subsequently lynched for this achievement) and how her grandmother was the first black nurse in a white hospital in Memphis and, once widowed, was Martin Luther King Junior's mistress. 

The novel spans three generations and "sings with personal narratives", the synopsis continues: "that of Joan New, the young woman whose story we follow most closely, as she grapples with a traumatising assault and family betrayal; those of her parents, whose passionate but troubled love takes the New family out of Memphis and back again; and Joan's grandparents, whose lives and pain form the foundation that sets the other generations' paths".

Walsh, who is also the editor for Dominicana by Angie Cruz, recently longlisted for the Women’s Prize, and Elmet by Fiona Mozley, who was shortlisted for the Booker, said: "I am delighted to be publishing Tara’s beautiful debut Memphis at John Murray. It is rare for absolutely everyone on the team to fall in love with a submission but Tara’s vivid writing drew every one of us in from the first page and didn’t let us go until the last. I can’t wait to see how readers react to the story she has to tell."

Stringfellow is a poet, teacher, and attorney living in Washington DC. She published her first collection of poetry, More than Dancing, in 2008, and her poetry has twice been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. A semi-finalist for the Fulbright Fellowship, her writing has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Minerva Rising, Jet Fuel Review, Women's Arts Quarterly, Transition, Apogee, and others. Stringfellow was recently accepted into the Art Aria Residency in Spain and the Can Serrat Residency in Italy.