When The 1619 Project debuted in 2019, it shed much-needed perspective on the history of African descendants in America—and our birthright to a country founded upon the labor of our ancestors. In February, that history will be explored in even more depth with the publication of Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019, “a unique one-volume ‘community’ history of African Americans” edited by historians Ibram X. Kendi (author of the bestselling Stamped from the Beginning and How to Be an Antiracist) and Keisha N. Blain (author of Set the World on Fire).
Ninety incredible writers (including The Root’s own Michael Harriot) have contributed to this landmark anthology, each of whom takes on a five-year period of Four Hundred Souls, beginning a year before the Mayflower reached our shores. As described by a release from publisher Penguin Random House:
The story begins in 1619—a year before the Mayflower—when the White Lion disgorges “some 20-and-odd Negroes” onto the shores of Virginia, inaugurating the African presence in what would become the United States. It takes us to the present, when African Americans, descendants of those on the White Lion and a thousand other routes to this country, continue a journey defined by inhuman oppression, visionary struggles, stunning achievements, and millions of ordinary lives passing through extraordinary history.
The writers explore their periods through a variety of techniques: historical essays, short stories, personal vignettes, and fiery polemics. They approach history from various perspectives: through the eyes of towering historical icons or the untold stories of ordinary people; through places, laws, and objects. While themes of resistance and struggle, of hope and reinvention, course through the book, this collection of diverse pieces from ninety different minds, reflecting ninety different perspectives, fundamentally deconstructs the idea that Africans in America are a monolith—instead it unlocks the startling range of experiences and ideas that have always existed within the community of Blackness. This is a history that illuminates our past and gives us new ways of thinking about our future, written by the most vital and essential voices of our present.
Ahead of the book’s release on Feb. 2, Penguin Random House has announced the “chorus of extraordinary voices” who will narrate the Four Hundred Souls audiobook. A cast of 87 narrators has been assembled to bring this rich history to life, including Drs. Kendi and Blain, Leslie Odom Jr., Danai Gurira, Soledad O’Brien, Keith David, Phylicia Rashad and Samira Wiley, in addition to several contributors who read their own pieces, including Alicia Garza, Angela Y. Davis, Sherrilyn Ifill, Mahogany L. Browne, and Pulitzer Prize-winning 1619 Project creator Nikole Hannah-Jones, who appropriately narrates “1619-1624: Arrival.”
“We envisioned this community of writers sounding like a choir, intoning the history of African America,” Kendi explained in a statement provided to The Root. “This audiobook of 87 voices is the powerful and resounding choir we envisioned. I’ve never listened to a book quite like this.”
“The audiobook beautifully captures the essence of our project: community,” adds Blain. “Together, the 87 voices weave a tapestry of the remarkable history of Black America.”
The full audiobook cast list includes:
Joniece Abbott-Pratt, Amir Abdullah, Ryan Vincent Anderson, Kristen Ariza, Dashawn Barnes, Joshua Bennett, Quincy Tyler Bernstine, Andre Blake, Torian Brackett, Donte Bonner, Mahogany L. Browne, Ron Butler, Kellie Carter-Jackson, Brianna Collette, Karen Chilton, Sean Crisden, Keith David, Angela Y. Davis, William DeMerrit, Leonard Dozier, Robin Eller, Kevin R. Free, James Fouhey, Alicia Garza, Dion Graham, Danai Gurira, Jerome Harmann-Hardeman, Jamal Henderson, Ethan Herisse, Susan Heyward, Cary Hite, Dominic Hoffman, Sherrilyn Ifill, James Monroe Iglehart, JD Jackson, Zainab Jah, Nikole Hannah-Jones, Sullivan Jones, Peter Francis James, Terrence Kidd, January LaVoy, Adam Lazarre-White, Keylor Leigh, Nicole Lewis, Dennis Logan, Chante McCormick, Desmond Manny, Jesus Martinez, Heather McGhee, Sheryl Mebane, Robin Miles, Karen Murray, Soneela Nankani, Leon Nixon, Soledad O’Brien, Leslie Odom, Jr., Adenrele Ojo, Genesis Oliver, Prentice Onayemi, Tovah Ott, Morgan Parker, Imani Parks, Lisa Renee Pitts, Imani Jade Powers, Rhett Samuel Price, Bill Quinn, Phylicia Rashad, David Sadzin, Joshua David Scarlett, Heather Alicia Simms, Shayna Small, Patricia Smith, Marisha Tapera, Tashi Thomas, Damian Thompson, TL Thompson, Ella Turenne, Bahni Turpin, Anita Welch, Jade Wheeler, Samira Wiley, Zenzi Williams, Mirron Willis, Andia Winslow, Kai Wright, with co-editors Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain.
Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019 will be released by Penguin Random House on Feb. 2.