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Flying with a Million Nightingales

UC Riverside Author Taking “A Million Nightingales” on National Tour, Starting in Southern California

This is the sixth novel for Professor Susan Straight

(March 25, 2006)

Susan Straight, (photo by Kris Lovekin)Enlarge

Susan Straight, (photo by Kris Lovekin)

RIVERSIDE, Calif. ( -- UC Riverside Creative Writing Professor Susan Straight embarks on a nationwide tour next week to promote her new novel, “A Million Nightingales,” released Tuesday, March 21 by Pantheon Books.

Starting on March 25 at the Literary Luncheon Festival in Laguna Beach, Straight will make dozens of appearances throughout California and in Texas, the Pacific Northwest, New York, Chicago and New England, winding up the tour in New Orleans, near where “A Million Nightingales” is set.

With this book, says The Los Angeles Times in its listing of “Faces to Watch, 2006,” Straight “steps back in time, describing a mixed-race girl in 19th century Louisiana and her efforts to leave the plantation and find freedom. With every book, the canvas seems to grow, suggesting there’s no limit to where Straight will take readers next.”

Straight will visit UC Riverside’s satellite campus in Palm Desert on Friday, April 14. Other local appearances to read and sign books will be at 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 29, at the Riverside Art Museum’s book club gala event, sponsored by Riverside’s Imagine That! bookstore; 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 18, at Borders Books and Music in Riverside; and 7 p.m. Thursday, May 25, at Barnes & Noble in Riverside. Southern California appearances also include a stop at 7 p.m. Friday, March 31, at Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena; and guest appearances April 29 and 30 at The Los Angeles Times Festival of the Book.

The protagonist of “A Million Nightingales” is Moinette, a slave, the daughter of an African mother and a white father she never knew. Determined to be free, she makes use of everything she can glean from her situation -- including coffee beans, clothespins, dried corn and literacy skills from eavesdropping on school lessons -- to sustain her on her planned escape.

Straight delves into the clash of cultures through which Moinette moves on her journey -- French, English, American, Native American, Congolese and Bambara, Jews and Catholics -- creating a cast of supporting characters that includes slaves and shopkeepers, lawyers and ladies, carpenters and slave catchers. Together, their voices portray a world where so many of America’s deep racial troubles were born.

Megan Marshall, in a recent review in the New York Times, ended with these words: "A Million Nightingales" joins a growing literature on the mixed-race experience in America, from Danzy Senna's picaresque "Caucasia" to Zadie Smith's "On Beauty." Straight has given this body of work a historical foundation, a point of reference in the past. But her novel is, besides, a powerful and moving story, written in language so beautiful you can almost believe the words themselves are capable of salving history's wounds."

Straight is the author of five previous novels, including “Highwire Moon,” which was a National Book Award finalist and won the Commonwealth of California Gold Medal for Fiction. Her essays have been featured on National Public Radio and, and have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The Nation and Family Circle, among many other publications.

Her fiction has appeared in McSweeney’s, Zoetrope and Best American Short Stories, among others, and she has received a Lannan Foundation Award and a Guggenheim Fellowship. She lives in Riverside with her three daughters. Her first middle-grade reader, The Friskative Dog, will be published by Knopf in September.

The University of California, Riverside ( is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion.

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