An American Quilt: Unfolding a Story of Family & Slavery
Forthcoming, Pegasus Books, May 2018
"Following the trail left by an unfinished quilt, this illuminating saga examines slavery from the cotton fields of the South to the textile mills of New England—and the humanity behind it.
When we think of slavery, most of us think of the American South. We think of back-breaking fieldwork on plantations. We don’t think of slavery in the North, nor do we think of the grueling labor of urban and domestic slaves. Rachel May’s rich new book explores the far reach of slavery, from New England to the Caribbean, the role it played in the growth of mercantile America, and the bonds between the agrarian south and the industrial north in the antebellum era—all through the discovery of a remarkable quilt.
While studying objects in a textile collection, May opened a veritable treasure-trove: a carefully folded, unfinished quilt made of 1830s-era fabrics, its backing containing fragile, aged papers with the dates 1798, 1808, and 1813, the words “shuger,” “rum,” “casks,” and “West Indies,” repeated over and over, along with “friendship,” “kindness,” “government,” and “incident.” The quilt top sent her on a journey to piece together the story of Minerva, Eliza, Jane, and Juba—the enslaved women behind the quilt—and their owner, Susan Crouch.
May brilliantly stitches together the often-silenced legacy of slavery by revealing the lives of these urban enslaved women and their world. Beautifully written and richly imagined, An American Quilt is a luminous historical examination and an appreciation of a craft that provides such a tactile connection to the past."
The Benedictines: A Novel, now avail for pre-sale
My novel, forthcoming from Braddock Avenue Books, is up for pre-sale now on their site. Please check it out: http://www.braddockavenuebooks.com/
Set near the Maine coast, Rachel May’s taut and probing new work of fiction, The Benedictines, conjures up the spirit of Sara Orne Jewett’s atmospheric landscapes. With prose that will have you turning pages in anticipation, May follows Annie James, a passionate, young artist whose decision to take a job teaching for a Benedictine school brings her deep into her students’ lives and up against the limits of control…and, for Annie, the limits of passion. With generosity and insight, May traces the deep conflicts between the human heart and the rules that heart invents. Like the quiet beauty of Maine, The Benedictines is a book that will stay with you for a long, long time.
The Benedictines is a taut, vivid, spellbinding, and gracefully written novel. I was amazed at how much power and beauty can be packed into so few pages. Rachel May is really, really good.
—Tim O’Brien, author of The Things They Carried
Rachel May’s strange and beautiful vision captured me the very first time I read her writing, years ago, when I was the fiction editor of the Michigan Quarterly Review. We were thrilled to publish her work there, and eagerly awaited more. Her debut novel delivers richly: in The Benedictines, May uses vignettes to render a complex place and people so immediately alive that one can’t help but turn the pages faster and faster. May’s characteristically offbeat, generous humor is a joy, as is her brilliant portrayal of a community navigating vital questions of teaching, belief, and humanity.
—V.V. Ganeshananthan, author of Love Marriage: A Novel
The Experiments: A Legend in Pictures & Words
The Experiments: A Legend in Pictures & Words has just been released by Dusie Press
“Rachel May’s series of evocative, ragged-edged, cotton print, applique; collages and short vignette fables in language experiments with tales of experiments: on people (electroshock or something like it), on cloth (“distressing” it by subjecting it to various roughing processes like burial, submersion in a range of elements, and so forth); on climate and self and so forth. The simplicity of her language belies the complexity of the social ecoscapes she describes, just as the surface crudeness of her whimsical fabric patches belies the storytelling power of their equilibrium and dynamism. She “wrap[s]” her subjects “in stories” because things and words, metaphor and material, are mysteriously bound together in a continuum that is also a contestation. And somehow it all works, with beauty to spare.” –Maria Damon
“Rachel May blends the sensuous and the violent into forceful narratives that refuse to settle neatly down. Instead, they stick out, don’t quite match up, and shuffle restlessly around in the most exciting and satisfying ways—just as her sewn collages do, in clashing prints and riotous colors—and all in quest of identity, in trying to put a name to it all, a name that goes beyond language, that demands the vividly visual, that demands the tangible. This book puts it in our hands.” –Cole Swensen
"My Hand a Needle: A Stitched Statement."
Best Book of 2014, Library Journal & Amazon.com
Quilting with a Modern Slant was named a Best Book of 2014 by Library Journal, and a Best Book of the Year in two categories ('Crafts, Home & Garden' and 'Editors' Picks: Crafty and Creative Gift Ideas') by Amazon.com.
Illustrations for Jaded Ibis Novellas
Novellas by Beth Couture and Leslie McGrath are forthcoming this fall, illustrated with my sewn images. The novellas are gorgeous and wonderfully-strange. Illustrating them is a huge honor, and I'm over the moon to the see the cover today -- please see "Sewn Images" (under "About & Images") for the image of the cover.
Michigan Quarterly Review cover & fiction w images
Within the issue, my fiction is published with sewn images.
Quilting with a Modern Slant
The book is out in two weeks! I'm excited. Please learn more here:
Interview with John Yau in LARB
Thanks to John Yau for this conversation.
1913: A Journal of Forms
I'm honored to be included in this beautiful issue!
Sewing & Short Fiction
New Delta Review's Summer 2013 is live, and I'm honored to be included:
Millay Colony joy
I'm excited and so very very grateful to be heading to the Millay Colony this summer! I can't wait to spend a month there, with other artists & writers.
The Literary Review
Excerpt from the short shorts and sewn pictures project, The Vermont Studio Experiments.
Another piece can be found here: Ihttp://wordforword.info/vol19/I Word for Word Issue 19.
New work in Memoir (and) and online at Word for/Word
Thank you to these journals for sending my work into the world!
quilts & poems
A series of quilted pictures and poems from the book-length work, The Vermont Studio Center Experiments, will be published in Word for/Word this summer.
Their current issue is here:
Thank you to MQR for giving my story "Bee & Grim" a home in their upcoming issue!
Indiana Review & Cream City Review
Two new stories ("Soon, Baby, Soon" and "At St. Christopher's, Part 2") have been published in Indiana Review and Cream City Review.
Links to the journals are here:
Literal Latte's newest edition is online. A series of shorts, which tied for first in their 08 contest, are published there:
Small Fires Press Collab Chapbook