• “Her excellent and thought-provoking book is on every level about unknowing rather than knowing — about pondering the mysteries of Banneker, who is often described as one of the first African American scientists, and the legacy of 11 generations of a multiracial American family that only now is coming into view.”

    New York Times Book Review


Rachel Jamison Webster

Rachel Jamison Webster is the author of Benjamin Banneker and Us: Eleven Generations of an American Family(Henry Holt, 2023). She has also published four books of poetry—Mary is a River, which was a finalist for the 2014 National Poetry Series; September; The Endless Unbegun; and The Sea Came Up & Drowned, which includes erasure poetry and Rachel’s visual art. Rachel’s poems and essays often appear in anthologies and journals, including Poetry, Tin House, and The Yale Review. Rachel is a Professor of Creative Writing at Northwestern University. She received a Weinberg College Alumni Teaching Award for her Creative Writing instruction, a Hewlett Fellowship for her design and implementation of diversity and social inequities curriculum, and an American Association of University Women Award. Before she taught at the college level, she designed and taught writing workshops for city youth through the Urban League in Portland, Oregon, and Gallery 37 in Chicago. She helped develop paid after-school arts programs with Chicago’s First Lady, Maggie Daley, and co-edited two anthologies of writing by young Chicagoans, Alchemy (2001) and Paper Atrium (2005). Rachel has been a Fellow in the Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities and an Op-Ed Public Voices Fellow. She lives with her husband and daughter in Evanston, Illinois.


“Drawing on her acute sensitivity to language and bias, sharing long discussions with her cousins, and meshing their family history with the brutal realities of Banneker's time, Webster has created an engrossing, multifaceted, profoundly thoughtful, and beautifully rendered inquiry that forms a clarifying lens on America’s ongoing struggles against racism and endemic injustice.”
Booklist, Starred Review

"Webster’s years of researching, imagining, and feeling her way into the histories of her ancestors and their descendants have culminated in her sweeping, frequently insightful, often speculative and sometimes extremely moving Benjamin Banneker and Us: Eleven Generations of an American Family.”
Washington Post

“Poet Webster offers a stunning meditation on race, identity, and achievement. It’s an enthralling and clear-eyed celebration of America’s multiracial past and present.”
Publisher’s Weekly, Starred Review

"The conversations between Webster and her cousins are among the more compelling parts of the book, providing a platform for the cousins to share the implications of their ancestry as Black people."


Benjamin Banneker was a real historical figure who lived in Maryland from 1731-1806. He published bestselling almanacs, helped to survey Washington D.C., and corresponded with Thomas Jefferson about the injustice of slavery.

Here are some resources for readers and educators:

Benjamin Banneker’s Letter to Jefferson:

Benjamin Banneker’s Astronomical Journal:

Benjamin Banneker’s 1793 Almanac:

Other Books

Available through all major retailers

Sea Came and Drowned, by Rachel Webster

Available through all major retailers

Available through all major retailers


The Ethics of Writing About Race as a White Woman, in Lit Hub:


“History is Another Word for Trauma” in The Yale Review:


“We Are Not All Orphans” in Perihelion:


“To Vanquish the Patriarchy” in Tin House:


“Defaced” in Tin House

Download PDF


“Did You See the Sky” at the Academy of American Poets

“The Pendulum,” “Kauai;” “Dolphins at Seven Weeks;” “La Porte” in Poetry

“Pomme” in The Paris Review:


Clarissa Long
Henry Holt

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