With the publication of her debut novel The Good Negress in 1995, A. J. Verdelle became an overnight sensation, winning critical acclaim and competing for prestigious literature prizes. But for Verdelle, the most unexpected consequence was the friendship she formed with the legendary Toni Morrison. Receiving an advance copy of the book, the Pulitzer and Nobel prize-winning author—notorious for never giving early praise—called The Good Negress, “Truly Extraordinary.” It was a writer’s dream come true—a dream that for Verdelle would become simultaneously exhilarating and challenging.
Now, twenty-five years later, Verdelle tells the story of that success and what came after. Miss Chloe begins with the story of young Verdelle’s persistent aim to become an author, spending countless pre-dawn hours writing the novel that became The Good Negress. Verdelle then turns to the heady period after publication, focusing on her relationship with Toni—a precious gift that was most of the time a grace and a blessing, and at other times, confusing and too separate from literature. While Morrison continued to rise as an icon, Verdelle’s writing career took a sharp turn. Verdelle’s next novel—a Western featuring Black characters—is quickly bought by a young editor who leaves for another job before the manuscript is finished. Searching for direction, Verdelle moves to another publisher. Yet this second book will languish for more than fifteen years. In chronicling her journey, Verdelle offers an honest assessment of what it means to be a writer, including the expectations and let downs that famous friendships do not defray.
Miss Chloe ends with the period after Morrison has passed away, when Verdelle is left to face the reality of her writing career, pondering what it means to have promise that is yet to materialize. She finds comfort in advice Morrison offered over the years, insight she shares in this wise book. “In order for Morrison to take you seriously, to have patience with you, to be interested, you had to be able to hear her,” Verdelle writes. “You had to be able to sit still and listen. You had to be able to pipe up in the pauses, and prove you understood. You needed demonstrate that language was a skill you had, that Black culture was known to you and respected by you.”