It is 1928 and Cora James, a 35-year-old Black librarian who works at the 135th Street library in Harlem, writes Langston Hughes a letter after identifying with one of his poems. She even reveals her secret desire to write. Langston responds, encouraging Cora to enter a writing contest sponsored by the National Urban League, and ignites her dream of being a writer. Cora is frustrated with the writing process, and her willingness to help her cousin Agnes keep her job after she is brutally beaten by her husband lands Cora in a white woman’s kitchen working as a cook.
In the Fitzgerald home, Cora discovers she has time to write and brings her notebook to work. When she comforts Mrs. Fitzgerald after an argument with Mr. Fitzgerald, a friendship forms. Mrs. Fitzgerald insists Cora call her Eleanor and gives her The Awakening by Kate Chopin to read. Cora is inspired by the conversation to write a story and sends it to Langston. Eventually she begins to question her life and marriage and starts to write another story about a woman’s sense of self. Through a series of letters, and startling developments in her dealings with the white family, Cora’s journey to becoming a writer takes her to the brink of losing everything, including her life.
“Through journal entries and letters, Cora invites us into not only her kitchen but also into her intense inner life, torn between her obligations as a wife, mother, and librarian and her urge to cook up her own stories. Though her friend Langston Hughes urges her to follow her passions, Cora’s commitment to write is challenged daily by life’s circumstances, only to find a surprising new source of encouragement. As 1928 unfolds, Cora’s Kitchen delves deeply into what it means to be a Black woman with ambition, to make choices and keep secrets, and to have an unexpected alliance with a white woman that ultimately may save both of them. In this intimate and expansive novel, Kim Garrett Brown renders Cora with immense empathy, acknowledging and confronting Cora’s own prejudices and allegiances and the social pressures that continue to reverberate far beyond this story. Cora’s Kitchen is a poignant, compelling story in which misfortune and fortune cannot be teased apart and literature and life have everything to do with each other.”
—Anna Leahy, author of What Happened Was: and Tumor
“It has been said, the universal is found in the specific, and in Cora’s Kitchen all women will find their challenges and longings expressed in unflinching honesty. Kimberly Brown’s characters are faithful to a time, yet timeless, transcending the years to both painfully and beautifully illustrate the struggles women face to find and fulfill their vocations. Spellbinding.”
—Erika Robuck, national bestselling author of The Invisible Woman