An Amerikan Family: The Shakurs and the Nation They Created (Hardcover)
A NEW YORK TIMES EDITORS' PICK
An NPR Best Book of the Year • Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year
Longlisted for the 2024 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence
"Magnificent…. A uniquely intimate history of Black liberation." – Los Angeles Times
The long overdue story of the Shakurs, persistent fighters in the U.S. struggle for racial justice, and one of the most prominent, influential and fiercely creative families in recent history
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. Whether founding one of the most notorious Black Panther chapters in the country, spearheading community-based healthcare, or engaging in armed struggle with systemic oppression, the Shakurs were at the forefront.
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.
An Amerikan Family is a history of the fight for Black liberation in the United States, as experienced and shaped by the Shakurs. It is a story of hope and betrayal, addiction and murder, persecution and revolution. Drawing from hundreds of hours of personal interviews, historical archives, court records, transcripts, and other rare documents, An Amerikan Family tells the complete and often devastating 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.
"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 (Editors' Pick)
"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
"Unlike other prominent American families, the Shakurs did not have millions of dollars to establish universities and foundations in their name. But what they did create was a powerful legacy of resistance.... Holley’s book represents the most detailed account of the Shakurs to date…. An Amerikan Family opens an important conversation about Black resistance to oppression in U.S. history." — The New Republic
"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 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)
“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
"[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
“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