Over the course of her 30-year career, Fannie Davis thrived at her job. Those Proceeds allowed her to buy Bridgett and her siblings designer clothes and shoes and support the entire family while her husband was unemployed.
As Davis details her mother’s secret life, readers will find pockets of information about the history of lotteries in the United States and an examination of how underground economies have fueled African American communities since colonial times. Throughout, Davis acknowledges her own career as a novelist and screenwriter would not be possible without Fannie’s hard (and illegal) work.
“We lived well thanks to Mama and her numbers,” Davis writes. “My mother’s message to black and white folks alike was clear: It’s nobody’s business what I do for my children, nor how I manage to do it.”
Veteran critic and Columbia University School of the Arts Professor Margo Jefferson explores the upper class Black Chicago of her childhood in this evocative memoir from 2016.
Born in 1947 to a prominent local pediatrician and his elegant socialite wife, Jefferson defines the term “Negroland” not as an exact space but as a societal position and state of mind that many upper crust families held for generations. While she acknowledges contemporary readers might have strong emotional reactions to the word “Negro,” Jefferson makes clear she is particularly comfortable with it because she “lived with its meaning and intimation for so long.”
As she dives into her experiences as an African American child of the 1950s, Jefferson gives readers a peek into a world of exclusive social clubs and parties — a society that often flourished despite segregation. Throughout, the author links her family’s story to American history, and how economic class and education can never erase racism in the United States.
In the years since its publication, Charles Blow’s 2014 coming-of-age memoir “Fire Shut Up in My Bones” has been adapted into an acclaimed opera. Written by the longtime New York Times columnist, the book begins with 20-something Blow racing down a road with a gun at-hand, determined to kill someone.
Blow then transports readers back to his childhood in segregated Gibsland, La., a community that kept its construct virtually throughout the entire Civil Rights Movement. It was there that Blow grew up as the youngest of five sons in a family that was both turbulent and loving.
After an older cousin molested the young Blow under the pretext of playing a “game,” his childhood is thrown into further confusion. Processing his pain and navigating a world that sometimes seems filled with dangerous people, Blow eventually learns how to control his rage and, as an adult, discovers how to identify his bisexuality.
"I had spent my whole life trying to fit in, but it would take the rest of my life to realize that some men are just meant to stand out," Blow shares in one moving passage. "Whatever had shaped my identity, it was now all me.”
In his acclaimed 2017 memoir “The Cooking Gene,” Michael Twitty leads readers through his personal journey to find the origins of soul food.
I dare to believe all Southerners are a family. We are not merely Native, European, and African. We are Middle Eastern and South Asian and East Asian and Latin American, now.
Part food memoir and part genealogical study into both the black and white segments of the author’s ancestry, Twitty's story details the evolution and journey of African American cooking from West Africa to the antebellum South, the Civil War era and beyond. Throughout, Twitty stresses the power of the foods that enabled his ancestors to survive and how soul food — a uniquely American cuisine — can bring both white and black Americans together.
“I dare to believe all Southerners are a family,” Twitty writes. “We are not merely Native, European, and African. We are Middle Eastern and South Asian and East Asian and Latin American, now. We are a dysfunctional family, but we are family.”
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