In 2019, the New York Times Magazine published 10 articles written by a team headed by Pulitzer Prize winner Nikole Hannah-Jones. Collectively known as the 1619 Project, these essays argue that the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in Virginia in 1619 was a defining event for our nation, one that has affected basically every aspect of life in the centuries since. The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story (19 hours) expands on this original work with additional essays and literary works.
The essays alone would have made compelling listening, but the pairing of historical analysis with artistic interpretation makes the audiobook especially moving. Some pieces are read with great passion, such as Hannah-Jones’ “Democracy.” Others, like Khalil Muhammed’s reading of “The Sugar Trade,” have a determined objectivity that underscores the human misery behind the historical fact. But nothing compares to the gut punches delivered by ZZ Packer’s short story “An Absolute Massacre” or Rita Dove’s poem “Youth Sunday.”
The audiobook’s variety of voices and styles allows the listener to understand American history on a profoundly human level. The result is a powerful lesson not only about what our history is but also how it feels.