Michele Norris, journalist and host for NPR’s All Things Considered, set out to help Americans have deep and honest conversations on Race, post-Obama’s inauguration. Jumping from a community conversation in York, PA into her personal history and how it played into the larger scale of history, she discovers family events kept secret. Events which held a profound impact on her upbringing, events, once discovered propelled her to want to reconcile the discrepancies between what she thought she knew and what was.
The central focus in on her father, (someone who she thought she knew well until after his unexpected passing), and his upbringing in Alabama and his own initiations into manhood. She first opens with the secret held by her mother about Norris’ grandmother. She was one of the women hired to promote Aunt Jemima Pancakes back in the days before Auntie got her makeover. This translate into being in costume and character of the caricature. Norris’ was stunned to discover this about a woman who took carried herself with great personal pride and dignity.
From page one to the end, Norris’ family history felt familiar and personal. I knew the people she was kin to. They were my own family members and Uncles, and Grandparents and neighbors. The language, the discussions, and the family strife were so close to my own family that it almost could have been me telling my own story.
The ending of the book has about 20 questions for discussion and encourages readers to actually explore their own family secrets with openness and grace. Back in the 80’s I attempted to do just that through poems. I put together a manuscript based on interviews with family members. I’m now continuing to work with those poems by finding ways to incorporate them into my art quilts. I want my adult children to read the book. I purchased the Kindle edition but would love to have the hard copy of this wonderful book. At the end I found myself in tears reflecting on the depth and scope of what is lost to history about African American lives and over the potential we have yet to fully articulate and live.
I started The Warmth of Other Suns today which I think will be a great companion to The Grace of Silence.