He Never Came Home – Interview with the author Regina R. Robertson

I must admit the first time I saw this cover and read this title I was immediately drawn in and was curious to see what this book was all about.  As soon as, I realized that it was a collection of essays written by women recounting life living without their fathers and their sometimesimg_3775 subsequent and turbulent reunions, I knew it was for me.  It’s the first time in a very long time that the back cover of a novel as truly spoken to me.  It was calling me.  Of course it was, since I too am a woman who grew up without my father.  I’m so glad I took the time to read it, ponder it, and even shed tears over it.  This is a must read for everybody.  Read below and discover Regina R. Robertson’s answers to my interview questions about her poignant debut novel He Never Came Home.

Me:  How did you get into writing?
Regina:  When I think back, I can admit that I was always a bit of a “closet writer.” As a kid, I spent a great deal of afterschool time at the library, read lots of books and was completely head-over-heels in love with magazines. I also loved my English classes. Oh, and I’m very proud to say that I was a master of sentence diagramming!

I studied marketing in college and after graduation, I landed my first “real job” at a record company. There, I did a lot of writing – marketing plans and such – and over time, I noticed that my writing stood out. That was probably the first time the “light bulb” switched on for me. Until then, I just assumed that everybody knew how to write.

After leaving the world of music and moving from New York to Los Angeles, I did some job-hopping in the film marketing and advertising industries. My paychecks covered the bills, to a point, but I wasn’t happy, at all. Then, on one fateful day in January 2001, I was fired from a job that I really hated. My immediate thought was, “What do you want to do with your life, like seriously? What will make you happy?” Because I’d always loved magazines, I figured I’d try my hand at writing for my favorite publications. My first writing assignments were press releases and artist bios…and I just kept building from there.

Me:  Could you tell my readers how He Never Came Home came to be?
Regina: He Never Came Home began its journey to publication as a 1,500-word article I wrote for Honey magazine entitled, “Where’s Daddy?” For that story, I interviewed three women who grew up without their fathers as well as an author who’d written a book on the subject and a psychologist. After the article ran (in October 2002), a colleague of mine, Tresa L. Sanders, asked why I hadn’t thought to interview her. Although I didn’t know her family history at the time, her question made me wonder how many other women saw their upbringing reflected in that story. That’s when I had the first thought about writing a book. Oh, and Tresa’s heartfelt story, “He Always Said, ‘I Love You,’” is featured in He Never Came Home, page 107.

More than a decade after that Honey article was published – and after enduring my fair share of rejection and many, many starts-and-stops – I scored a book deal, finally, and began my search for (and found) 21 brave women who trusted me to share their stories. So, it’s been quite a long road.

Me:  How did you go about writing the stories that were told to you? Was it difficult to do?
Regina:  Writing and editing the as-told-to stories was rather seamless. The biggest challenge was working around everybody’s schedule, but it was manageable. We got it done.

For these stories, I either hopped on the phone (with my out-of-town contributors) or scheduled a time for a sit-down (with my Los Angeles-based contributors). After each interview, I’d do my transcribing and think about where I wanted to start. Once I had the opening mapped out, I’d send along a few paragraphs to the contributor and ask, “Did I get it right? Is this your voice? Are those the facts?” Thankfully, the feedback was mostly along the lines of, “Yup, that’s what happened,” or “Wow, that really does sound like me!” From there, I’d continue crafting the story and we’d go back-and-forth with editing. In the case of Regina King (whose essay is entitled, “Redefining Family”), we were editing while she was juggling two, primetime shows and also, winning Emmy Awards! There were a few times when I’d missed a fact or didn’t understand a piece of a story, so I might have a quick follow-up call or a few frantic email exchanges.

Once I was all done, I sent the final version to the contributor and said, “Okay, this is what’s going in the manuscript…what do you think?” Each of my contributors were happy with the way their stories were told, even the tough parts. Ultimately, I wanted to make sure that everybody had the space to tell their story and “hear” their own voice when they read it.

Me:  The pacing of He Never Came Home was perfect. How did you decide the order of the stories?
Regina:  Writing and editing the book was therapeutic, but also quite taxing, emotionally. Once all of the stories were written and edited, I was actually quite excited about the sequencing process.

My plan had always been to section the book into three categories – distant, divorced, deceased. If I recall correctly, I whipped up the table of contents in a few hours, in a single day. I knew I wanted to open with a young woman’s voice, so I gave that slot to Niko Amber (“The Birthday Present”). Then I thought maybe my essay (“Death of a Stranger”) might be a good way to close the collection. From there, I looked over the list of contributors and thought about how their stories might flow together. Although everybody’s circumstances are different, I started to see that there was some “connective tissue,” if you will.

After I submitted the manuscript, my publisher thought the sequence was perfect! So, I’d say that writing the table of contents was the easiest part of my publishing journey!

Me:  He Never Came Home is your first book.  Will you be writing any fiction novels in the future or other non-fiction novels?
Regina:  Yes, He Never Came Home is my first book…and there are more to come! I’m definitely thinking about what I’d like to write about next, but I’m also trying to catch my breath. The publishing process is intense – worth it, of course, but intense! So, for now, I’m tossing around a few ideas and mapping out my next book proposal…in my head.

Me: Will you be exploring this theme of missing fathers in future novels?
Regina:  We shall see what comes to mind.

Me:  How has He Never Came Home been received by the public and in literary circles?
Regina:  So far, the response has been amazing. I’ve received such positive feedback from women, many of whom have shared with me their personal stories, whether on social media, at book signings or just out in the world. I’ve been quite surprised by the amount of feedback I’ve received from men, too. In fact, I had a man tell me that reading the book made him “want to be a better man.” That was really touching.

In literary circles, the response has been quite positive as well. Again, I’ve received such interesting feedback from men. Whether they are fathers or uncles or brothers, so many men were moved by the stories and seemed to have found some enlightenment about how important their presence is.

Me:  Would you consider making He Never Came Home in documentary form?
Regina:  Absolutely…and fingers crossed!

Me:  How and why did you get Joy-Ann Reid to write the foreword?
Regina:  During the entire time I was writing and editing the book, I was thinking about who I’d like to pen the foreword. As I got closer to my deadline, I started panicking. One of my contributors, Wendy L. Wilson – whose essay is entitled “That Day in April” and with whom I’d worked during her tenure as the News Editor at Essence – sent me a note suggesting Joy-Ann Reid.

In short, Joy-Ann had recently lost her mostly-absent dad and wrote a very personal Facebook status about how she felt about his passing as well as the ways his absence affected her family. When I read her words, my first thought was, “Wow, this piece could have been in the book.” Then I thought, “Wait…of course she should write the foreword!” After asking around, I found my way to her within about a week’s time and sent her an email outlining the project and asked if she might have time to talk. We scheduled a call, she heard my long-winded spiel – ha! – and she was onboard, which completely blew me away.

I sent her the manuscript and in response, she crafted the most wonderful opening for the book. Again, I was completely blown away and still am, honestly. She was supportive from the start and it means so much to me that she is a part of the project. And although it might sound a bit cliché, working with Joy-Ann was an absolute joy!”

Me:  Do you feel your book will bring more attention to this problem of girls growing up without their fathers?
Regina:  The book is shedding more light on the issue, for sure, and sadly, there are so many fatherless young girls and women out in the world whom are still unpacking their feelings.

The stories in the book are triumphant, which makes me quite proud. We all made it, or are making it, and I think that’s what speaks to readers. I want people to know that no matter where you come from or what you’ve been through, there can be love and light and hope on the other side of it all.

I’d like to extend a big thank you to Regina R. Robertson for agreeing to do this interview, in spite of her extremely busy schedule.  I enjoyed our brief connections around He Never Came Home and I wish you tremendous success for He Never Came Home and for your future writing.

My copy:  He Never Came Home – Regina Robertson – paperback, 208 pages

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To New Release or Not

If you’re an avid reader like me, your worst nightmare is standing in front of your bookcase (insert picture of bookcase overflowing with different sized books with colorful enticing spines and a few stacks on the floor because there’s no more room on the shelves) and trying to find the next book to rock your world. We all want to find a book that’s a knock it out of the park 5-stars. However, the number one problem is that we can’t help but be convinced to read some of the many new books released every month instead. Frankly, new releases can be a real dilemma. How does one choose from the plethora of newbies out there.

Well If you’re the kind of person that reads all the new books because you feel automatically left out of the literary conversation if you don’t, then this post is for you. If you’re dying to get to some lesser known but hopefully interesting reads you’re in the right place. I’m going to to share with you some of my anticipated new releases this year. Some of them you can already find in the shops and a few I’ve already read. Moreover the particularity of this list is that they are all diverse authors:

lazarettoLazaretto is Diane McKinney-Whetstone’s sixth novel. She is especially known for writing her successful bestselling contemporary novel Tumbling. One of the dominant aspects to McKinney-Whetstone’s novels is that they are set in her hometown Philadelphia. This is equally the case of Lazaretto which explores the arrival of immigrants whose first stop is the Lazaretto quarantine hospital. The Philadelphia Lazaretto was the first quarantine hospital, built in 1799, in the Untied States. Henceforth, this novel of historical fiction, plays out the story of the black community of Lazaretto, set in the aftermath of the Civil War and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Fans of McKinney-Whetstone, I’m sure will be impatient to read Lazaretto which was released on the 12th of April. Her last novel was published in 2005, called Trading Dreams at Midnight.
in other wordsIn Other Words was released earlier this year in February and it is one that I personally can’t wait to peruse. Jhumpa Lahiri moved to Rome with her family in 2012 with the intention of immersing herself in Italian culture and language. Writing daily in her journal in Italian, her goal was to master the Italian language. Through the pages of this autobiographical novel, we see how Lahiri deals with a journey into new words, writing, learning, and being understood. For all of those who have ever had to live in a country while learning the language, In Other Words should be a relevant read. Lahiri wrote In Other Words in Italian; so that is inspiration to all language learners.

I had the pleasure of already reading and enjoying the next two books that I’m recommending The Book of Harlan by Bernice L. McFadden and The Birds of Opulence bythe book of harlan Crystal Wilkinson. The Book of Harlan spans six decades and turns around Harlan the main character. The setting goes from Harlem Renaissance to Paris jazz clubs in Montmartre, Paris to the dark, horrific Buchenwald Concentration Camp. Just check out my review to hear more about it.

The Birds of Opulence develops a story in a small Kentucky town called Opulence. Four generations of women living under the same roof can make the birds of opulencefor a lot toes being stepped on. However, the stronger mothers love their daughters the more difficult relationships seem to be. Wilkinson explores major themes such as mother/daughter relationships, male/female relationships, community, race, and coming of age. Characters found in Wilkinson’s previous short story collect called Water Street appear in The Birds of Opulence. It’s a little book that packs a punch. Check out my review here.
The Blackbirds is the latest Eric Jerome Dickey release, April 19th. I haven’t had a chance the blackbirdsto read it yet, but it’s on my TBR for this month. It’s a chick-lit or as I would like to refer to it as a “girlfriend book”. The blackbirds are four young women Kwanzaa, Indigo, Destiny, and Ericka, friends but close enough to be sisters. Of course they are all looking for something in particular – love, health, etc., however it’s their friendship that they value the most or do they.

Last but not least I recommend The Castle Cross the Magnet Carter the castlereleased at the end of January this year, which is an epic historical fiction covering 1941 to the twenty-first century. It is written by The Wire tv writer and playwright Kia Northern and has been highly anticipated. Two white brothers growing up in rural Alabama and two black brothers growing up in a small town in Maryland whose families will encounter and conflict. Obviously not a simple story but an enticingly captivating one told in 800 pages. I’m looking forward to encountering all the various historical references; definitely a read to keep us engrossed and pondering. Personally, I can’t wait to get to it. It’s on my TBR this month.

I wrote this post as a guest on Callaloo Soup.  Thanks for inviting me!  Check out Francine’s creative simplicity, inspirations and resources blog.  You’ll find everything from journaling, scrapbooking, reading recs,  and plenty of other great ideas to lead your wholesome slow living life.

 

I’m an affiliate for The Book Depository. It would be much appreciated to click the link below if you’re interested in picking up any of my recommendations. It will help fund my incessant book buying.
http://www.bookdepository.com/?a_aid=browngirlreading

#ReadSoulLit Photo Challenge Day 20 – A Red Book

Day 20A Red Book:  Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present

“From the era of slavery to the present day, the first full history of black America’s shocking mistreatment as unwilling and unwitting experimental subjects at the hands of the medical establishment.

Medical Apartheid is the first and only comprehensive history of medical experimentation on African Americans. Starting with the earliest encounters between black Americans and img_2526Western medical researchers and the racist pseudoscience that resulted, it details the ways both slaves and freedmen were used in hospitals for experiments conducted without their knowledge—a tradition that continues today within some black populations. It reveals how blacks have historically been prey to grave-robbing as well as unauthorized autopsies and dissections. Moving into the twentieth century, it shows how the pseudoscience of eugenics and social Darwinism was used to justify experimental exploitation and shoddy medical treatment of blacks, and the view that they were biologically inferior, oversexed, and unfit for adult responsibilities. Shocking new details about the government’s notorious Tuskegee experiment are revealed, as are similar, less-well-known medical atrocities conducted by the government, the armed forces, prisons, and private institutions.
The product of years of prodigious research into medical journals and experimental reports long undisturbed, Medical Apartheid reveals the hidden underbelly of scientific research and makes possible, for the first time, an understanding of the roots of the African American health deficit. At last, it provides the fullest possible context for comprehending the behavioral fallout that has caused black Americans to view researchers—and indeed the whole medical establishment—with such deep distrust. No one concerned with issues of public health and racial justice can afford not to read Medical Apartheid, a masterful book that will stir up both controversy and long-needed debate.” (Medical Apartheid, Goodreads description)

My copy:  Medical Apartheid, paperback 528 pages

Absolutely watch the two videos. They are informative and chilling.  We really have some work to do in the United States concerning race relations and being aware of OUR history!

 

 

I’m an affiliate for The Book Depository. It would be much appreciated to click the link below if you’re interested in picking up any of my recommendations. It will help fund my incessant book buying.
http://www.bookdepository.com/?a_aid=browngirlreading

#ReadSoulLit Photo Challenge Day 19 – Currently Reading

Day 19Currently Reading

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My copies:

Like Trees, Walking, paperback 252 pages

Blacks, paperback 512 pages

Jubilee, paperback 497 pages

Forgotten: The Untold Story of D-Day’s Black Heroes, at Home and at War, hardcover 368 pages

I’m an affiliate for The Book Depository. It would be much appreciated to click the link below if you’re interested in picking up any of my recommendations. It will help fund my incessant book buying.
http://www.bookdepository.com/?a_aid=browngirlreading

#ReadSoulLit Photo Challenge – Day 13

Day 13 – A Must Read:

Today’s photo challenge wasn’t easy to choose either.  There are so many great must reads.  I decided to goIMG_1415 with The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson that I’m reading at the moment.  I don’t usually read a lot of non-fiction but something seems to be changing in my reading habits and that’s a good thing.  I’m reading more non-fiction, more memoirs, and more short story collections.  The Warmth of Other Suns is about the migration of blacks from the south to the northern  and western cities of the United States from 1915 to 1970.  I have to say this is a subject that is crucial to American history, but that wasn’t touched on at all at school.  It’s for this reason I chose it as a must read.  What better way to understand this period than from the mouths of the people who actually lived through it.  It’s non-fiction but reads like fiction and is captivating from the get go.  I’ll definitely be back with a full review when I’m done.  It’s a monster read of 622 pages, but it seems to be going quickly.  What is a must read for you?

A Month of Favorites: 5 Faves by Theme

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2 – 5 Faves by a Theme {eg. Audiobooks, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Mysteries, Books with Surprise Twists, Surprise Endings, Non-Fiction, Books That Made You Cry, Laugh Out Loud, Cringe, Book Boyfriends That Stole Your Heart, Apocalypse, Dystopian, Best books with kick ass girls, favorite siblings, couples, friends, most hated and loved villains} – link-up hosted at Estella’s Revenge.

 

5 Fave Graphic novels/Comics:

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1.  Chroniques de Jérusalem is an excellent way to become better acquainted with the complexities of Israel through the eyes of Guy Delisle.  He and his family move to Jerusalem because his wife is working for Médecins sans Frontière (Doctors without Borders).  There he finds out things up close and personal in this true account. It’s frustrating, shocking, funny, and informative.  The schematic black and white artwork contains loads of detail and is more and more endearing as the story develops.  You can read it in English too. The title is called Chronicles of Jerusalem.

 

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2.  Storm is a comic which recounts her life and the beginning of her powers.  I enjoyed this one but I didn’t love it.  Storm is drawn as a twenty something when in fact through most of the book she’s about thirteen years old.  That was a bit strange.  Otherwise the artwork is well done with beautiful colours. I mostly picked it up because I wanted to see how Eric Jerome Dickey was going to handle writing a comic. Not too bad Dickey.

 

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3.  Saga is one of the most popular comics read this year.  This fantasy/science-fiction comic follows two soldiers from two different races and planets that fall in love and betray the expectations of their people by having a baby and trying to make a solid family.  Interesting commentary on society while dazzling the eyes with creative colourful beings and monsters from the two worlds.  Who won’t like Saga?  Those who prefer linear stories with normal looking people doing normal things and without too much sex. Personally I loved it!

 

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4.  Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth was picked up on a whim.  I had heard a few people mention it and decided to try it out.  I was surprised by Chris Ware’s ability to convey so much sensitivity through the artwork, the graphics, and the mise en page.  It’s an autobiography about an ordinary man who one day has the possibility of meeting his father who abandoned him so many years before.  Every centimetre of this graphic novel has been thought out methodically to convey the emotions and themes of the story.  This is a really worthwhile graphic novel to pick up, especially if you haven’t yet found the style of graphic novel that speaks to you.  The cover and book size are very original.  This one is definitely a keeper.

 

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5.  L’Arabe du Futur (The Arab of the Future) is an autobiographical graphic novel that follows the life of the author Riad Sattouf.  The reader follows Riad and his parents (Syrian father and French mother) as they move from living in Libya under Khadaffi’s rule to the countryside of Syria in Homs.  It’s edifying seeing what it was like to live in Libya and Syria from 1978-1984.  I read this one in French, however it is available in English.  Those who have read this one can’t wait for part 2.

 

5 Fave Non-fiction:

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1.  Buck is the memoir of MK Asante.  He writes his story with a lot of passion and lyricism.  It’s like reading music.  If you’re interested in reading how someone who was spiralling downward manages to take control of his life and discover art, music, and the desire to create you should check this one out.  I liked it and I’m not always a fan of reading memoirs.

 

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2.  Red Dust Road is Jackie Kay’s search for her biological parents (her father a Nigerian and her mother a Scottish woman from the Highlands).  It’s poignant, sensitive, and uncomfortable in places.  It’s beautifully written and we as readers are really along for the ride as she searches for her parents. This was my first full length novel by Jackie Kay.  I first learned about her from Claire over at Word by Word.  She spoke to me about Kay’s poetry.  If you don’t know Jackie Kay you should definitely check her out because she’s a wonderful writer of color from Scotland. I can’t wait to read Trumpet and Reality Reality.  You can read her poetry online free of charge.

 

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3.  The Hare with Amber Eyes wasn’t exactly what I thought it would be but it is an interesting story of an extremely wealth Jewish family’s journey through Europe, and their netsake collection from Japan.  This is a story full of plush architectural descriptions to the idiosyncrasies of Edmund De Waal’s family.  From Russia to France to Austria and the United Kingdom, this story will teach you many things.  If you’re a history and art lover and appreciate intricate storytelling about real people and historical happenings you’ll love this one.

 

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4.  In the shadow of the Banyan is the stunning fictionalised true story of Vaddey Ratner’s years in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge. This story is so well written it really took me aback.  The emotion described in this book was phenomenal!  All told through the eyes of a child and it’s this aspect that makes the story so special.  It will shock you and break your heart but this book is definitely a must read for those that want to know more about this dark period of Cambodia.

 

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5.  March is the first volume of the life of Congressman John Lewis.  This comic details the budding years of the Civil Rights Movement. March could be used as a teaching tool and is an excellent tribute to a great African-American.  The artwork is well done and has a unique style of mise en page.  I can’t wait to read volume 2!

Black Like Me

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The old saying is that you never know what someone else is going through or living until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes and frankly it’s impossible.  However, John Howard Griffin turned his skin black and tried to live as a black man for six weeks while travelling through the Deep South in 1959.  He persisted to take a medication which is normally prescribed to patients suffering from vitiligo, a disease where white spots appear on the body and the face, in conjunction with exposure to ultra-violet rays to darken his skin.  This process would take from six weeks to three months but since he wanted the process to be accelerated so that he could get on to his project, the doses were augmented so that he could start on his journey as a black man.

Now this is actually my second reading of this book.  I’d forgotten how powerful it is, not to mention I was only seventeen the first time I read it and really can’t remember what I thought of it.  I don’t usually have the habit of rereading books, but I think I may have to change that.  You do see things differently reading books at different ages.

Black Like Me really does explore the life of a black man, but directly through the eyes of a white man.  It’s like being a fly on the wall.  Griffin went through the Deep South in 1959, riding buses, hitchhiking, trying to find jobs, and meeting blacks and whites of all classes.  The book is recounted in journal entries since this is what he used as a way to record everything he’d seen and felt for the day.  So, it is like we have a sneak peek into his travels.

One main positive point of Black Like Me is that it is particularly well written and Griffin had an astute sense of analysis about the people he met along the journey, about some the things they said and even their body language and facial expressions.  He interpreted situations perfectly.  In fact, there were moments of high suspense where we as the reader feared for him.  All in all his experience helped him to tell the story of his journey.  Now I’m sure some African-Americans will have a problem accepting Black Like Me because it’s a white man telling it, so its authenticity is on the line and he was white so he couldn’t really know what black people were going through.  I get that, but I have to disagree, in this case.  Griffin approached this whole idea like a journalist but with the skin he was in he would have had to be blind not to feel some of the things blacks were feeling and going through at the time, for everyone that looked at him treated him like he was black.  He makes that point quite clear in the novel when he talks about the hard racist stares and how the blackness of the skin is what seems to be despised and why the black man was treated as inferior.  He reflects on this and explains how illogical this way of thinking is and the more and more that he continues on his journey the more that he feels like a shadow.  “I have held no brief for the Negro.  I have looked diligently for all aspects of “inferiority” among them and I cannot find them.  All the cherished-begging epithets applied to the Negro race, and widely accepted as truth even by men of good will, simply prove untrue when one lives among them.  This, of course, excludes the trash element, which is the same everywhere and is no more evident among Negroes than whites.  When all the talk, all the propaganda has been cut away, the criterion is nothing but the color of skin.  My experience proved that.  They judged me by no other quality.  My skin was dark.  That was sufficient reason for them to deny me those rights and freedoms without which life loses its significance and becomes a matter of little more than animal survival.  I searched for some other answer and found none.  I had spent a day without food and water for no other reason than that my skin was black.“(Black Like Me, p.115)

In essence, I believe this book was written for the white man.  Most people believed black people were poorly educated and probably dismissed their writings and absolutely didn’t believe that they were disenfranchised.  Whereas Black Like Me was like a ripple in the river that couldn’t be ignored, I remember hearing my Uncle Lawrence talk to me about this book when I was young, as well as Malcolm X, James Baldwin, Richard Wright, Dick Gregory, W.E.B DuBois, and others.  He felt that Black Like Me was an accurate account and felt that every American should read it.  He used to say, “It happened, is still happening in some places, and we should talk about it.”

As I was reading Black Like Me this second time, I was thinking about my mother and my Uncle Lawrence and wondering how in the world did they survive all of that.  I wondered deep down inside if I would have been as strong and combative as they were.  I felt this especially at the moments in the book that  made me feel sick to my stomach and very fearful.  This just reinforces that history must be told in its entirety and truthfully.  We can’t afford to leave anything out.  Our youth and future generations are depending on our capacity to be thorough, but most of all honest.  Everybody needs to know where they’ve come from, how they’ve acquired what they have today, and what they hope for the future.

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