This book has been in pro cess since I was in fourth grade, when I wrote
short stories and used images from Essence magazine to tell a famil-
iar  story of what it feels like to be a Black girl in the United States.
Shapeshifters would have never come to be, however, if it weren’t for the
overwhelming generosity and fearless honesty of Janice and the other
young women at the Fresh Start shelter. I owe this work to all of the young
women in Detroit, and particularly the women and girls in the Brown
family, who agreed to share their lives with me. I am also grateful to
the staff and administration of the Fresh Start shelter. They worked tire-
lessly with the best intentions to make a space where none had existed
for Black girls in Detroit. We loved, soared, failed, and tried our best
The first version of the manuscript took shape while I was a gradu ate
student in the Anthropology Department at the University of Michigan.
The Rackham Merit Fellowship and support from the Culture and Cogni-
tion joint program in anthropology and psy chology allowed me to com-
plete extended years of fieldwork in Detroit. I thank Larry Hirshfeld for
believing in me and this research in my first year of gradu ate study. My
dissertation chair, Andrew Shryock, encouraged me to trust the truth of
the stories as they were revealed and was never anything less than enthu-
siastic about the importance of the work. As members of my dissertation
committee, Kelly Askew, Ruth Behar, and Alford Young offered critical
insights and were central to helping reshape my gradu ate research into
Ac know ledgments
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