An Amerikan Family is a light helping us go forward.” — Nikki Giovanni, poet
An enlightening history of the rise and lasting impact of Black liberation groups in America, as seen through the Shakurs, one of the movement’s most prominent and fiercely creative families, home to Tupac and Assata, and a powerful incubator for today’s activism, scholarship, and artistry.
They have been celebrated, glorified, and mythologized. They have been hailed as heroes, liberators, and freedom fighters. They have been condemned, pursued, imprisoned, exiled, and killed. But the true and complete story of the Shakur family—one of the most famous names in contemporary Black American history—has never been told.
For over fifty years, the Shakurs have inspired generations of activists, scholars, and music fans. Many people are only familiar with Assata Shakur, the popular author and thinker, living for three decades in Cuban exile; or the late rapper Tupac. But the branches of the Shakur family tree extend widely, and the roots reach into the most furtive and hidden depths of the underground.
An Amerikan Family is a history of the fight for Black liberation in the United States, as experienced and shaped by the Shakur family. It is the story of hope and betrayal, addiction and murder, persecution and revolution. An Amerikan Family is not only family genealogy; it is the story of Black America’s long struggle for racial justice and the nation’s covert and repressive tactics to defeat that struggle. It is the story of a small but determined community, taking extreme, unconventional, and often perilous measures in the quest for freedom. In short, the story of the Shakurs is the story of America.
SANTI ELIJAH HOLLEY has reported for more than a decade on the intersection of culture, music, race, religion, and politics. His work has appeared in numerous national and international outlets, including The Atlantic, The New Republic, the Economist, the Guardian, the Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post. Holley is the recipient of grants from PEN America and the Robert B. Silvers Foundation, and he was awarded an Oregon Literary Fellowship for nonfiction. He lives in Los Angeles.
"Magnificent…. A uniquely intimate history of Black liberation…. Writing as a historian and storyteller, Holley never lets us lose sight of the complex tapestry of movements that marked the era….The greatest triumph of An Amerikan Family is the way Holley expertly blends archival research — including court documents, congressional transcripts, FBI records and newspaper clippings — with oral history to tell human stories that are at once exceptional and recognizable…. Seeing the humanity in these revolutionaries can allow the next generation of activists to see themselves as capable of resilience, and of becoming new models for making change." — Los Angeles Times
"Sets a standard for drama that seems impossible to sustain. But the cast of characters expands, and somehow each one the reader encounters is as compelling as the last.... As revealing and inclusive a portrait of the Shakurs as we have seen.... An Amerikan Family offers no romantic assurance that the Shakurs’ legacy in politics or music will live on exactly as they intended. Instead, it provides readers with a visceral and unsanitized account of the Black liberation struggle as a material and often lawless battle between the American government and Black people who refuse to be trampled upon." — New York Times Book Review
"A history of a dynasty of Black resistance.... Well written and richly detailed, this book is a strong contribution to the literature of Black militancy." — Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"Holley’s prose is captivating, as he describes the lives of Lumumba Shakur, Afeni Shakur, and Sekou Odinga, among others, and their impact on Black nationalism as well as on modern activism.... Holley’s riveting, detailed history is essential reading for understanding modern America and the Shakurs' enduring legacy." — Booklist (starred review)
"[A] riveting group portrait.... Sweeping and sober, this is a vital chapter in the history of the struggle for racial justice." — Publishers Weekly
"Holley presents a teeming narrative. Details may astonish readers, but the plot feels right at home in the season of Black Lives Matter and the reemergence of white nationalism." — Alta Journal
"Santi Elijah Holley uncovers the truth about this family of artists and activists and tells their story in a whole new way." — The Root
“An Amerikan Family is a first chapter in making the world better, with truth and beauty. For those of us who haven’t seen their stories written as they battled the darkness around them, An Amerikan Family is a light helping us go forward.” — Nikki Giovanni, poet
“What COINTELPRO worked so hard at wiping out is forever chronicled in this lost chapter of Amerikan history. Funny how the history of one family can cover so much ground, unearth so many bodies, and reveal so many conspiracies and hard-born realities — from the heart of the U.S. government's anti-black policies to the very soul of the Black power and liberation movements. Holley’s impeccable research takes what has been handed down orally to the children of the movement and lines it up with what has been factually documented. One way or another we have all been touched by the Shakur family, and here is a testament to the fiery spirit that has sparked the brains of generations to come.” — Saul Williams, author of Said the Shotgun to the Head and The Dead Emcee Scrolls