must be done about Prince Edward County

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New York Times Best Seller in Education and Race & Civil Rights

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Now in paperback

The book tells the story of a Virginia community that defied the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education ruling. When ordered by a federal court to desegregate the public schools in 1959, white leaders instead chose to close them.

The public schools would remain shut for five years, depriving hundreds of black children – and some white children – of an education. Students were sent to live with family, even strangers, in other counties, and even other states so they could attend school. Some children worked in the tobacco fields with their parents to help support their families. Many would never again return to a classroom.

It was a story Kristen knew little about as a child. She spent an idyllic childhood in Farmville, swimming with her three brothers in her parents’ pool and being doted on by loving grandparents. All her neighbors, teachers, and classmates were white. She had virtually no contact with blacks in her community, other than her family’s longtime housekeeper, Elsie Lancaster. She was completely unaware of the impact the school closures had had on black children, including Elsie’s daughter.

When Kristen decided to write about what had happened in her hometown, she used her journalistic skills to peel back the layers of the community’s complicated and shameful history. The result is the story of how Barbara Johns, a young, female student led a protest of the conditions at her black high school, resulting in a lawsuit that would ultimately become part of Brown v. Board of Education.

It is the story of a landmark Supreme Court case, and a white Board of Supervisors that voted to close schools rather than allow their children to attend class with black kids. And it is a story of how the affected children, their parents, and the entire community, would forever be changed.

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A gripping narrative.
The New York Times
Her thoughtful book is a gift to a new generation of readers.
The Washington Post
Moving and clear-eyed, damning and hopeful, this is an essential read.
Jesmyn Ward, National Book Award-winning author of Salvage the Bones and Men We Reaped
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The story behind the book

Kristen began thinking about writing this book soon after she met her future husband, Jason. Marrying a multiracial man gave the hidden history of her hometown more meaning.

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Upcoming Events

Meet Kristen and learn more about Something Must Be Done

About Prince Edward County at any of these events

Upcoming Events
Past Events

Upcoming Events

  • Aug. 1, 7:30pm, Warwick’s, 7812 Girard Avenue, La Jolla, Calif.
  • Sept. 15, Brescia University, Owensboro, Ky.
  • Sept. 19, University of Mary Washington, Fredericksburg, Va.
  • Oct. 11, panel with SOMETHING MUST BE DONE cover designer Jane Archer, University of Mary Washington, Fredericksburg, Va.
  • Oct. 26, panel with students shut out of Prince Edward schools, University of Mary Washington, Fredericksburg, Va.
  • Nov. 5, 10:30 am, Midlothian Library’s Festival of the Written Word

Past Events

  • MAY 2016
  • Chop Suey Bookstore, with author Ross Howell Jr., Richmond, Va.
  • Gaithersburg Book Festival, Gaithersburg, Md.
  • Housing Opportunities Made Equal of Virginia, Inc. *private event
  • APRIL 2016
  • UMW RVA Alumni Network Evening, Richmond, Va. *Private event
  • Weinstein JCC, Richmond, Va.
  • Ginter Park Presbyterian Church, Richmond, Va.
  • George H. Moody Middle School, Henrico, Va. *Private event
  • Henrico Retired Teachers Luncheon *Private event
  • MARCH 2016
  • Grace and Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, Richmond, Va.
  • Panel discussion at VisArts, Richmond, Va.
  • West End Branch Library, Richmond, Va. 
  • Virginia Festival of the Book, Charlottesville, Va.
  • FEBRUARY 2016
  • Richmond Writers Program, Richmond Public Library, Richmond, Va.
  • Lecture followed by book signing, College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, Va.
  • Ensworth High School, Nashville, Tenn. *Private event
  • Greenwich High School, Greenwich, Conn. *Private event
  • NOVEMBER 2015
  • Lecture at Hampden-Sydney College, Farmville, Va.
  • OCTOBER 2015
  • Civil rights panel, George Mason Fall for the Book festival, GMU Fairfax campus.
  • Lecture at Longwood University, Farmville, Va.
  • “Changing Course: Reflections in the Wake of Desegregation” panel with author Jim Grimsley, Southern Festival of Books, Southern Festival of Books, Nashville, Tenn.
  • James River Writers Conference, Richmond, Va.
  • Virginia Historical Society, Richmond, Va.
  • SEPTEMBER 2015
  • Blue Bicycle Books, Charleston, SC
  • Lecture at University of Mary Washington, Information and Technology Convergence Center
  • JULY 2015
  • Winchester Book Gallery, Winchester, Va.
  • Talk at Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Fredericksburg, Fredericksburg,VA.
  • Talk and book signing at Reveille United Methodist Church, Richmond, Va.
  • Literary salon at Writer House, Charlottesville, Va.
  • JUNE 2015
  • Barnes & Noble Longwood University, Farmville, Va.
  • Curious Iguana, Frederick, Md.
  • Politics & Prose, Washington, DC
  • Barnes & Noble at Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Va.
  • About The Author


    Updates from Kristen


    Kristen has worked as a journalist for two decades.

    This is a sample of her work.

    Recent Work
    Richmond Times-Dispatch
    The Boston Globe
    The San Diego Union-Tribune

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    Latest News

    Washington Post Notable Nonfiction of 2015

    Washington Post Notable Nonfiction of 2015

    Nov 19 2015

    I’m thrilled that SOMETHING MUST BE DONE made the Washington Post’s notable nonfiction of 2105. It is an honor to be included…

    Andrew Carnegie longlist

    Andrew Carnegie longlist

    Sep 26 2015

    I was proud to learn this week that ‪SOMETHING MUST BE DONE is on the longlist for the Andrew Carnegie Medals for…

    Modern Notion podcast

    Modern Notion podcast

    Aug 04 2015

    I enjoyed being interviewed by Modern Notion for this podcast. My part starts at 13:40.