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High Cotton

FINALIST — 2021 Georgia Author of the Year Award for Memoir

Johnson’s moving work offers a welcome sense of solidarity and commonality to its readers.

Publishers Weekly

As Johnson’s voice shifts between vulnerability and conviction, her prose is culturally astute and progressive. High Cotton demonstrates the power of the individual’s role in propelling social progress while providing a glimpse of Johnson’s lived experience.


Kristie Robin Johnson has lived nearly her whole life in small town Georgia, as did five generations of African American women before her beginning with a slave, her oldest known ancestor. In High Cotton, Johnson explores the social and economic consequences of her lineage, drawing on pivotal moments from her own experience to illuminate the lived reality of a daughter of the Deep South.

Johnson unapologetically describes a life that falls below the standards of black respectability, that of an unmarried young mother, an addict’s daughter, a college dropout, welfare recipient, and willful sinnerThe voice in High Cotton is a cry from within the masses. Johnson stretches out long brown fingers as far as they will reach to barely skim the first, crucial rung of the ladder to success, that so-called American dream. She exposes the soft underbelly of black girl magic, celebrating black life in all its glorious vulnerability.

The essays in High Cotton contain all the complication of a post–civil rights era, post–women’s liberation, pre-millennial black woman living in the modern South, conjuring universal truths every reader will recognize.

Both alluringly personal and culturally astute, High Cotton examines race, gender, and poverty through the author’s experiences as a black daughter, a black mother and, chiefly, a black woman living in the Deep South. This is a book about finding your place, knowing your place, and the ways you can and cannot escape that place. Kristie Robin Johnson’s voice is both lyrical and sharp, soft as cotton, stinging as a snakebite. These essays have charm and power and enviable strength.

—Aubrey Hirsch, author of Why We Never Talk About Sugar

Among the personal essayist’s great challenges—the fundamental challenge—is to somehow be ruthlessly unsentimental about life’s traumas and tribulations while still projecting warmth, good humor, empathy, and generosity of spirit: to cast a cold eye on life without being, or seeming to be, cold. In the twenty-one essays (many as piquant as they are brief) that make up High Cotton, Kristie Robin Johnson more than meets this goal. But given the vicissitudes that have informed her life and that are her book’s principle subject, Johnson’s greatest feat is having written the thing at all. That it happens to be so well written is, one might say, the icing on the cake.

—Peter Selgin, author of The Inventors

High Cotton is a compelling collection of essays that reveal a wide-ranging, pointed curiosity that aims for excavation and revelation. In direct and lively prose, Johnson examines how race, gender, motherhood, sexual violence, poverty, and disability shape her dreams and desires, her realities and responsibilities. Johnson is an uncompromising truth teller, at once vulnerable and fierce, soft and hard. Johnson’s essays recount stories of pain forgiven but not forgotten, of love lost but also of love found again and again.

—Kerry Neville, author of Remember to Forget Me

Kristie Robin Johnson is an educator, essayist, and poet whose work is rooted in vulnerability and truth. She is Assistant Professor of English and Department Chair for Humanities at Georgia Military College, Augusta. She holds a MFA in Creative Writing from Georgia College and State University and also earned degrees in political science and public administration from Augusta University. Kristie has previously worked as a caseworker for the US House of Representatives and as a coordinator at Augusta Technical College. Of all her occupations, the most meaningful and challenging by far is her job as mother to two brilliant young men—Robert and Patrick.  Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in RigorousSplit Lip MagazineESME
Under the Gum TreeLunch Ticket
riverSedge, and other journals and publications. Kristie is the recipient of an artist grant from the Greater Augusta Arts Council, and her writing has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and received honorable mention in the AWP Intro to Journals Project.  High Cotton is her first book. She resides in Grovetown, Georgia, with her two sons.