“In this poignant, painful, and gorgeous memoir, Melissa Valentine bravely explores what faces Black boys and men, through the eyes of a Black woman, sister, daughter, and member of a family whose lives are altered forever, time and time again. The Names of All the Flowers encourages us to be brave too; brave enough to imagine a world that loves Black people, in all of our complexities.” —Alicia Garza, cofounder, Black Lives Matter
Melissa and her older brother Junior grow up running around the disparate neighborhoods of 1990s Oakland, two of six children to a white Quaker father and a black Southern mother. But as Junior approaches adolescence, a bullying incident and later a violent attack in school leave him searching for power and a sense of self in all the wrong places; he develops a hard front and falls into drug dealing. Right before Junior’s twentieth birthday, the family is torn apart when he is murdered as a result of gun violence.
The Names of All the Flowers connects one tragic death to a collective grief for all black people who die too young. A lyrical recounting of a life lost, Melissa Valentine’s debut memoir is an intimate portrait of a family fractured by the school-to-prison pipeline and an enduring love letter to an adored older brother. It is a call for justice amid endless cycles of violence, grief, and trauma, declaring: “We are all witness and therefore no one is spared from this loss.”
Melissa Valentine is a writer from Oakland, CA. She earned her BA from Sarah Lawrence College and her MFA in creative writing from Mills College. She has been a fellow at the San Francisco Writers' Grotto, and her work has appeared in Jezebel, Guernica, Apogee Journal, and others. Her writing has received honorable mention from Glimmer Train and the Ardella Mills Nonfiction Award. She currently lives in Brooklyn, NY.
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