This exclusive excerpt from The Blackwoods by Brandy Colbert introduces Blossom on the cusp of achieving her dream—if only someone would give her a chance.
If you’re looking for a book centered around Hollywood, family dynamics, and the Black experience, both in the present and the past, then you definitely want to pick up The Blackwoods by Brandy Colbert. This is the same woman who brought you The Voting Booth and The Only Black Girls in Town, so you know it’s going to be good!
I love anything to do with the history of film and television, especially when it comes to the experiences of marginalized communities. Brandy Colbert’s latest novel follows three points of view and two separate timelines, weaving together the story of the Blackwoods, both from where they started and where they ended up.
Check out the official synopsis in the next section, and then jump to our Blackwoods excerpt, which shows Blossom as she realizes she might have a chance to see all of her dreams come true. At that point in time, it feels like nothing more than a dream and a wish, but as we already know, it’s the start of something truly spectacular that will last for generations.
About ‘The Blackwoods’
The Blackwoods. Everyone knows their name.
Blossom Blackwood burst onto the silver screen in 1962, and in the decades that followed, she would become one of the most celebrated actors of our time—and the matriarch of the most famous Black family in Hollywood. To her great-granddaughters, Hollis and Ardith, she has always just been Bebe. And when she passes away, it changes everything.
Hollis Blackwood was never interested in fame. Still, she’s surrounded by it, whether at home with her family or at the prestigious Dupree Academy among Los Angeles’ elite. When private photos of Hollis are leaked in the wake of Blossom’s death, she is thrust into the spotlight she’s long avoided—and finds that trust may be a luxury even she can’t afford.
Ardith Blackwood has always lived in the public eye. A television star since childhood, she was perhaps closer with Blossom than anyone—especially after Ardith’s mother died in a drug overdose. Ever since, she has worked to be everything her family, her church, and the public want her to be. But as a family secret comes to light and the pressures from all sides begin to mount, she wonders what is left beneath the face she shows the world.
Weaving together the narratives of Hollis, Ardith, and Blossom, award-winning author Brandy Colbert tells an unforgettable story set in an America where everything is personal, and nothing is private.
‘The Blackwoods’ excerpt
A few weeks later, Blossom again found herself with Michael on her front porch. Only this time, they were sitting on the steps, their knees and shoulders touching. Sybil was at orchestra practice, and Flossie was working at the hotel; the neighbors could still see them and mention it to her mother, but Blossom cared a lot less about it than she had before Flossie told her about their father. She felt as if all of them—she, Sybil, and Marla—had grown up a bit after receiving that news. For Blossom, it had shown her that Mama wasn’t as tough as she seemed, that she had vulnerabilities just like anyone else. The only time Flossie had moved from the wingback chair that night was to use the restroom and refill her glass. Around dinnertime, Blossom had found her nodded off with an unlit cigarette on her lap, The Lone Ranger blaring from the radio next to her.
“I want to show you something,” Blossom said, her voice hesitant. She wasn’t sure how Michael was going to respond to it, and that made her anxious.
“All right.” He leaned back on his elbows, giving her a lazy smile. As much time as they’d spent together over the past few years, sometimes Blossom was still struck by how handsome he was. She knew he was aware of how all the girls looked at him, but it never seemed to go to his head.
Blossom slowly pulled a small square of folded newsprint from the pocket of her skirt. She’d been carrying it around for a week now, ever since she’d seen the announcement and clipped it from the California Eagle. She unfolded and smoothed it out before she placed it on Michael’s leg.
He sat up and read it aloud under his breath. Blossom listened, even though she knew the text by heart. “‘The Beatrice van der Kolk Dance Company is seeking new talent. Dancers will have the opportunity to audition for the group on April 7 from nine a.m. to five p.m. at Music Town on Jefferson and Normandie. Company director Beatrice van der Kolk has informed that the auditions are colorblind. Open to all talented individuals.’”
Michael was quiet for a moment, then read it again. At last, he carefully refolded the clipping into a neat square and handed it back to her without a word.
“Isn’t this exciting?” she said, slipping it into her pocket for safekeeping. “‘Open to all talented individuals.’ They’re interested in Negro dancers, too. I can audition!”
“So, you want to do this?” Michael asked, his eyebrows pinching together.
“Of course I do! Beatrice van der Kolk is a respected dancer. She studied with Ruth St. Denis!”
Michael gave her a puzzled look.
“Ruth St. Denis trained Martha Graham.” When that didn’t register with him, either, Blossom pursed her lips. “Martha Graham? She’s one of the most famous dancers and choreographers of all time!”
“How famous could she be if I’ve never heard of her?” Michael said, a smirk crossing his lips. Blossom got the idea he was half joking, but she wasn’t in the mood right now.
“She performed for the Roosevelts a few years ago—at the White House.” She shook her head. “But never mind all that. I get to audition for Beatrice van der Kolk, and she doesn’t even mind that I’m Negro.”
“What about the Negro dance companies? They not good enough?”
Blossom scoffed. “What Negro companies? There’s Katherine Dunham and her group, but they’re in New York City. I’d have to move across the country if I made it, and . . . I’m not ready for that. Yet.”
Michael’s eyes narrowed. “You planning on moving back East?”
“Not anytime soon. Listen, Michael, this is a real good opportunity for me. They’ll be looking at my dancing, not the color of my skin. If they choose me, I can learn everything I need to know right here in Los Angeles. This could be my ticket into dancing or acting professionally.”
Michael was quiet again as he considered this. “If you audition for this van der lady and get the gig, you’ll stay right here?”
Blossom shifted uncomfortably on the steps. What did Michael want her to say? Los Angeles would always be home. But she knew from Flossie’s experience how difficult it was to succeed in show business. Actors, singers, and dancers had to follow the work, which was why Flossie herself had traveled to places she’d never wanted to visit back when she was with the Feldman Sisters. And why Negro entertainers often performed in venues that made them use the service entrances and wouldn’t even allow them to sit in the audience among the white people enjoying their shows. There was a reason so many Negroes moved to New York City; she didn’t presume her story would be any different one day.
But she knew Michael wouldn’t respond well to that. So all she said was, “I want to dance. And perform. And if I can do it here, that’s even better.”
“Good.” Michael pressed his hands to his thighs as he looked at her. “Because I want you right here, Blossom. With me.”
Michael was smiling. He didn’t agree with what she wanted to do, but as long as she was still with him, he wouldn’t complain. He probably thought he was being generous. But to Blossom, those words felt as if they were wrapping themselves around her, binding her in a cage.
‘The Blackwoods’ by Brandy Colbert releases on October 3, 2023
Look for more content like this Blackwoods excerpt on our books page.