Last fall, Shonda Rhimes received an unexpected phone call, with a top-secret invitation. She was given the chance to read an advanced copy of the book; fly to Washington, D.C.; and share her thoughts with the author at a private gathering weeks before the chart-buster would hit bookstores.
The superstar producer and writer behind Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal told no one. The manuscript was “like a live baby I was afraid to leave home alone,” as Rhimes described it. Every free moment she had, she read.
“I wanted to be prepared,” Rhimes remembered. “Because this was not any book club. This was the book club.”
Eleven other black women writers and confidantes received a similar invitation. They included the National Book Award winner Jacqueline Woodson; the legendary radio journalist and first black woman NPR host, Michele Norris; the renowned poet Elizabeth Alexander, who had just been named president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation; the towering Johns Hopkins University historian Martha Jones, who had just published Birthright Citizens, which would win two book awards; another towering historian, Rutgers University’s Erica Armstrong Dunbar, whose latest book, Never Caught, was a National Book Award finalist; one of America’s most influential literary scholars, Columbia University’s Farah Jasmine Griffin; the novelist Tayari Jones, whose An American Marriage was a New York Times best seller; the Pulitzer Prize–winning, two-time U.S. poet laureate Natasha Tretheway; the president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Sherrilyn Ifill; and the author’s special assistant, Chynna Clayton, and her old friend from Harvard Law School Verna Williams, whose recorded conversations with the author were crucial in the book’s development.