Ella: A Novel (Hardcover)

Ella: A Novel By Diane Richards Cover Image

Ella: A Novel (Hardcover)


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In the vein of The Paris Wife and The Personal Librarian comes this debut novel, a magnificent work of “biographical fiction” that reimagines the turbulent and triumphant early years of Ella Fitzgerald, arguably the greatest singer of the twentieth century.

When fifteen-year-old Ella Fitzgerald’s mother dies at the height of the Depression in 1932, the teenager goes to work for the mob to support herself and her family. When the law finally catches up, the “ungovernable” adolescent is incarcerated in the New York Training School for Girls in upstate New York—a wicked prison infamous for its harsh treatment of inmates, especially Black ones. Determined to be free, Ella escapes and makes her way back to Harlem, where she is forced to dance for pennies on the street.

Looking for a break into show business, Ella draws straws to appear at the Apollo Theater’s Amateur Night on November 21, 1934. Rather than perform a dance routine directly after “The World Famous Edwards Sisters” number, the homeless Ella, wearing men’s galoshes a size too big, risks everything when she decides to sing Judy instead. Four years later, at barely twenty-one, Ella Fitzgerald has become the bestselling female vocalist in America.

Diane Richards’ Ella Fitzgerald is inspiring and intriguing—an emotionally rich, psychologically complex character, a flawed mother and wife who struggles with deep emotional scars and trauma and battles racism, sexism, and colorism as she learns to find her voice on the stage. Ella takes us from the brothels, speakeasys, and streets of Depression-era New York City to the grand hotel suites where Ella, now older and wiser, looks back on her life and finally confronts the demons from childhood that torment her.

Compelling and rich in historical detail, Ella is a remarkable debut novel about an extraordinary woman.

Diane Richards is the Executive Director of the Harlem Writers Guild and a writer, playwright, music producer. She is also a singer who cut her own album in the 1980s and performed backup for Whitney Houston. Like Ella, Diane won a talent competition that launched her career—singing Watch What Happens, a song made famous by Ella Fitzgerald. She lives in New York City.

Product Details ISBN: 9780063338654
ISBN-10: 0063338653
Publisher: Amistad
Publication Date: May 7th, 2024
Pages: 384
Language: English

(Diane) Richards, a former background vocalist for Whitney Houston, debuts with an electrifying tale of Ella Fitzgerald in the years before she was discovered on “Amateur Night” at the Apollo Theater in 1934…Richards’s research brings the sights and sounds of 1930s Harlem to vivid life, and she portrays Fitzgerald’s troubling teen years with care and sensitivity. Readers will be grateful for the chance to feel so deeply acquainted with “The First Lady of Song.” — Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“With Ella: A Novel, Diane Richards has blended her literary magic with the sonic boom of Fitzgerald’s life, poetically resurrecting the great vocalist’s journey, while also re-imagining the parts misunderstood or previously left blank. The result is not just a mesmerizing work of historical fiction, but also the rebirth Ella Fitzgerald truly deserves.”—Kevin Powell, Grammy-nominated poet and Tupac Shakur biographer

Thank you, Diane Richards, for giving us Ella, a suspenseful and heart-wrenching novel. Ella Fitzgerald’s mother, Tempie, saw what might be possible for her first-born when she instructed her to 'make something beautiful for the world.' Ella Fitzgerald certainly did that, as do you." — —Sheila Williams, author of Things Past Telling 

"An extraordinary novel about an extraordinary woman. I had no idea what Ella Fitzgerald endured – what a remarkable real-life CinderELLA story! Diane Richards’ beautiful novel pays fitting homage to the First Lady of Song!"
—Brendan Slocumb, author of The Violin Conspiracy

"Diane Richards’ Ella: A Novel is a gem ... superbly imagined, and convincingly rendered. The language sings. This is a page-turner that immerses the reader in Ella Fitzgerald’s heartbreaking world of Depression-era Harlem, and its energy, its music, and its dancing, which fuel a young girl’s dreams of stardom."

—Diane McKinney-Whetstone, author of Our Gen