YOU MAY PLOW HERE: The Narrative of Sara Brooks
edited by Thordis Simonsen
with Images in Black and White
NEW essay & photographs by Thordis Simonsen
publication date: 12 December 2023

Hello friends of the Museum of Authenticity. Thank you for your curiosity and interest. I have worked quietly and persistently preparing You May Plow Here for re-publication during the past 18 months. Now I invite you to join me in breathing life into the project—for the love of it.

VIDEO introducing this campaign

a unique opportunity
As a way of standing up against the current wave of erasures and disinformation about Black American history, would you please help defray some of the expense of printing the new edition of YOU MAY PLOW HERE: The Narrative of Sara Brooks by purchasing one or more autographed copies for yourself, for family, for friends. To heighten your impact, please consider purchasing one or more copies that will be inscribed and donated to one or more libraries at the 107 Historically Black Colleges and Universities,* the 163 African American museums,** or other libraries or recipients of your choice. Alternatively, make a cash contribution to the project. Please scroll to the end for making purchases and/or contributions. A staggering $22,000 will cover printing costs. We appreciate sponsorships in any amount!

Your early participation will encourage others to follow suit.
** https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-museums-united-states-and-canada/

Without posting donor names (unless requested), I will report regularly on the progress of the campaign here. Any amount, large or small, will be meaningful and appreciated!

goal: $22,000
date of report: 2 February 2024
number of sponsors: 78—thank you very much!
total amount to date: $6,037 (27.4%)

The following HBCU* and other libraries have received books to date:

*Alabama State University
*Bethune Cookman University
*Central State University [offshoot of Wilberforce]
*Edward Waters University
*Florida A&M University
*Florida Memorial University

*Gadsden State College
*Hampton University [site of c. 200 year-old Emancipation Oak]
*Hinds County Community College
*Howard University
*Kentucky State University
*Lane College
*Langston University

*Lincoln University [oldest degree-conferring HBCU]
*Miles College
*Morgan State University

*Norfolk State University
*Oakwood University
*Philander Smith University
*Shorter College
*Stillman College
*Talladega College
*Tougaloo College
*Trenholm State Community College
*Tuskegee University
*University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff
University of Wisconsin
*Wilberforce University [historically oldest HBCU]
*Winston Salem State University
National Museum of African American History and Culture
Amistad Center for Art and Culture [preserving and interpreting African American culture and history and correcting the misrepresentation and under-representation of this important aspect of our country’s evolution]

why does YOU MAY PLOW HERE matter?
YOU MAY PLOW HERE: The Narrative of Sara Brooks was first published by W. W. Norton in 1986—a time in America when books by Black writers were widely celebrated. Nearly 40 years later, as I release a new edition of YMPH, books by Black writers and books about Black history are being removed from library shelves and school curricula, and disinformation about the African American experience is being disseminated. In this climate of untruths and erasure, the re-publication of YMPH could not be more timely or relevant.

My name is Thordis Simonsen. I am a writer-artist. And I am white. Over the course of a decade, beginning in 1974, I was privileged to record and edit Sara Brooks’ narrative. This highly acclaimed oral history is an intimate and singular account, vividly told by an African American woman who was born in 1911 in Alabama’s Black Belt and raised along with seventeen additional dependents on the 53 1/3-acre farm her father worked steadfastly to own and keep. Sara Brooks eventually joined the great migration North where, setting hope and determination against hardship, she ultimately achieved homeownership herself.

YOU MAY PLOW HERE fills a gap in African American history—we seldom hear about land owning Blacks from that era, and an account by a woman is rare. The book had been required reading in courses at Brigham Young University, Metropolitan State University (Denver), University of North Carolina, and Wellesley College, among others. However, availability of the book suffered due to exchanges of rights between W. W. Norton (1986 and 1992) and Simon & Schuster/ Touchstone (1987). Norton returned the rights to me in 2022.

accolades for the 1986 edition of YOU MAY PLOW HERE
A story about immense courage, faith and spirit.
—Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post

A fascinating much-needed addition to our expanding knowledge of American social history.
—Frances Smith Foster, The New York Times

A prideful, joyful outpouring. . . .To read You May Plow Here is not so much to read a book as to meet a woman of exceptional character. . . .This book fits neatly onto the shelf of what Alice Walker calls ‘womanist prose.’
—American Library Association’s Best Sellers

You don’t just read You May Plow Here, you listen to it. Brooks’ vivid pictorial memory allows her to conjure up scenes from 70 years ago as though they had occurred an hour ago.   
—Linda Villarosa, The Denver Post

Longtime friend Simonsen edited her tapes of Brooks so sensitively that there is little distance between reader and storyteller; she activates voice on the printed page in much the same way author Studs Terkel did in his book “Working.” In this story of her genesis, Brooks triumphs with genuine grace and dignity. Her account is simply told, but in her wish to bare details of the commonplace she has successfully mapped a cultural Atlantis and added to the body of comment on the role of women in our culture.
—Dean Stahl, Seattle Post-Intelligence

Now we have a woman’s narrative to stand alongside those of Nate Shaw and Hosea Hudson. I found the description of from life unusually evocative, the narrator’s “voice” distinctive, consistent, and a lift to the spirit; the story of marriage and work life honest and human. The photographs are outstanding.
—Jacquelyn Hall, Director, Southern Oral History Program, The University of North Carolina

what is NEW about the new edition?
The new edition of YOU MAY PLOW HERE includes thirty-three carefully reproduced black-and-white photographs that I took of vestiges of the mule farming way of life in Sara Brooks’ Alabama home county and surrounding counties. Made in the 1970s, these images of people and place give a face to Sara Brooks’ vivid testimonial. Furthermore, my introduction to the photographs, Images in Black and White,” situates Sara Brooks’ narrative into a broader context that reaches back to enslavement and the Jim Crow era and encompasses ongoing practices of housing discrimination, voter suppression, and other tactics that have denied Black Americans the same rights and comforts that are enjoyed by this and other privileged white Americans, some of whom are looking honestly at the profound impact of persistent racial injustices and are calling for reparations and reform.

the photographs have been well-received
Most of the photographs included in the new edition of YOU MAY PLOW HERE have been exhibited at the following venues:
Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities, Arvada, Colorado, 1986
Buffalo State College, Buffalo, New York, 1987
Case Western Reserve University Mather Gallery, Cleveland, Ohio, 1987
Wells College, Aurora, New York, 1987
Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, Ohio, 1988
Purdue University, W. Lafayette, Indiana, 1988
Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado, 1988
Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library, Denver, Colorado, 2017

specifications of the NEW EDITION
publisher: The Fundamental Note in partnership with the Museum of Authenticity
publication date: 12 December 2023 (Sara Brooks’ 112th birthday)
edition: 750
format: 8 1/2 x 8 1/2 inches
number of pages: 208
illustrations: 33 black-and-white, duotone photographs, one per page
cover: 14 pt coverstock, 4″ flaps, matte laminate
text: 100lb silk coated

binding: smyth sewn
shrink wrap
cost of printing: $22,000
retail price: $40 plus tax & shipping where applicable

The expense of creating a small edition of a beautiful book, durable enough for library use, is stupefying, and I have already invested deeply in this project.

I began by paying $900 to an intellectual property attorney to motivate the previous publisher to return all rights to me. I then personally invested an inestimable number of hours meticulously typing the 200-page narrative into Word files. (The original manuscript was prepared for publication before the widespread use of personal computers). Next, a friend who has been devoted to the project volunteered countless hours to work alongside me to check the files for accuracy. I had already printed the selenium-toned photographs in my makeshift darkroom years ago, and later had most of them scanned for reproduction at a cost I cannot recollect. Recently, I invested $2000 in the creation of a PDF print-ready file of the book, and I have spent countless hours proofing these files. These and other out-of-pocket expenditures are not reflected in the cost of printing and binding the new edition.

Printing, where you come in, has been priced at­­­­ $22,000 for 750 copies, the intended print run.

I have successfully written and independently published two other books. Dancing Girl: Themes and Improvisations in a Greek Village Setting (The Fundamental Note,1991) is a travel/memoir accompanied by my black-and-white photographs. It was funded in part by a grant from the Ella Lyman Cabot Trust and has sold 9,000 copies to date. Dances in Two Worlds: a writer-artist’s backstory (The Fundamental Note, 2011) is a collection of personal essays accompanied by my artwork. It was funded by an $11,000. grant from the John Anson Kittredge Educational Fund and won the 2012 Colorado Book Award for creative nonfiction. I am eminently qualified to publish the new edition of You May Plow Here: The Narrative of Sara Brooks.

I never imagined writing a book. I had been teaching high school biology for seven years and was designing a course in cultural anthropology in 1974 when I mentioned to Sara Brooks, who by then had cleaned house for my parents and grandparents for twenty-six years, that I was headed to a village in Greece in order to experience rural life. With no additional prompting, she responded with reminiscences, which I recorded, about her upbringing on the farm in Alabama’s Black Belt where she grew up. When I played the tape for my students, I felt compelled to learn more. Thankfully, Sara Brooks agreed to make a book with me. Intermittently, over the course of a decade, I taped her stories, which I transcribed faithfully and shaped into YOU MAY PLOW HERE. Every time I read her stories or share them with audiences, I am more impressed by the importance of her account and her knack for telling it.

In the 1970s, I took photographs to accompany Sara Brooks’ narrative—vestiges of the mule farming way of life that she knew. W. W. Norton omitted the photographs from their 1986 and 1992 editions, and I have ached ever since to produce a book that includes them. While making the long-anticipated, new edition, I discovered that the photos, and the stories surrounding them, have taken on a deeper meaning to me. They do not just tell the story of people who met hardship with strength and courage. They reinforce the story finally being told more widely today of generations of suppression and inequity. In 1979, why did Lucinda Stallworth still live in a wood-shuttered board house that sat on blocks instead of a house with thermopane windows and a solid foundation? Why was Jamie Watts still tilling his land by hand with a mule and plow, and not a tractor? Why did Richmond Banks deliver building supplies in a wooden wagon drawn by mules rather than a pick-up truck? Along with Sara Brooks’ narrative, the photographs included in the new edition of YOU MAY PLOW HERE are an invaluable addition to African American archives.

about the editor/photographer
Thordis Niela Simonsen’s college yearbook quote foretold a life of adventure: I’d rather wear out than rust out (Whitefield). Thordis taught courses of her own design in biology and cultural anthropology; taped interviews, edited, and took photographs for YOU MAY PLOW HERE: The Narrative of Sara Brooks, an oral history; restored a roofless stone house in Greece single-handedly and wrote about it in her 2nd book, DANCING GIRL: Themes and Improvisations in a Greek Village Setting; published a collection of personal essays and paintings of her own in her award-winning 3rd book, DANCES IN TWO WORLDS: a writer-artist’s backstory; and founded the MUSEUM OF AUTHENTICITY, an intimate museum of art & culture, in Salida, Colorado, that she now directs.

investing in the re-publication of YOU MAY PLOW HERE
I could not be more grateful to you for contributing—at any level—to the re-publication of YOU MAY PLOW HERE: The Narrative of Sara Brooks by purchasing autographed books and notecards, making cash contributions, and/or referring information about this campaign to others.

—forward information about this project to your family, friends, and colleagues, members of bookclubs and other organizations that host speakers; your assistance here is invaluable!

—purchase autographed books on the Museum of Authenticity website; include autographing instructions and all mailing addresses. Also look in the Museum of Authenticity shop for the set of four blank notecards made specially for this campaign with the Gee’s Bend quilt motif used throughout the book.

—send a check payable to the Museum of Authenticity for $48 per autographed book (includes shipping via USPS media mail; add tax where applicable) with autographing instructions and shipping addresses to: Museum of Authenticity, P.O. Box 1091, Salida CO 81201

—make a cash contribution in any amount on the museum of authenticity website

—write a check in any amount payable to the Museum of Authenticity and send to the Museum of Authenticity, P.O. Box 1091, Salida CO 81201

QUESTIONS & REFERRALS: Please call 303.585.1783 or send an email to thordis@museumofauthenticity.org.

VIDEO expression of appreciation

My gratitude to you runs deep and true—

Thordis Simonsen
13 October 2023