You do not yet know us. You do not yet understand. We who are from the dark . . .
Haunting in its lyricism and bristling with unabashed beauty, Robert Jones Jr.’s debut novel offers another vision of the history of slavery and the lives of those who were enslaved. The Prophets recounts the story of Samuel and Isaiah. They are enslaved on the Halifax plantation and must survive all the brutalities of being owned as property. However, this is not the only story to tell, as Samuel and Isaiah’s affection and tenderness for each other makes their conditions as chattel livable. Excavating a story of love and queerness from the history of slavery, Jones conjures a more beautiful and caring narrative from the violence and erasure of the historical record.
The neo-slave narrative, a fictional retelling of the historical realities of slavery, has long been a genre that redresses and reimagines the lives and interiorities of enslaved Black people. Jones’s novel is clearly in this tradition and by placing two Black gay men at the center of his imagining, the world of the past opens. What cannot be read, seen, heard, or felt from previous records now exists in fiction. Jones’s tale of queer love and desire amidst extreme deprivation not only honors the strivings of the enslaved, his novel expands the imagination of who was working, toiling, loving, resisting, and surviving. The Prophets offers a new look at the lifeworlds of the enslaved, acknowledging that Black queer subjects have always existed and have also played significant roles in the unfolding of history.