Plot/Idea: Otto E. Stallworth, Jr. writes evocatively about living in the American South before the Civil Rights Movement. He offers a first-hand perspective on segregation and racial violence, as well as on prejudicial attitudes encountered throughout his life and career. He writes jovially and vividly about American history as well as his own far-ranging experiences, with a comfortable manner of storytelling that warmly welcomes readers into his world.
Prose: The prose flows easily and authentically. Stallworth's writing shines, whether he's discussing the depths of addiction or conveying a sweet love story; managing a music group, or succeeding in the medical profession.
Originality: Stallworth's life is uniquely his, and the manner in which he weaves together very different and captivating stories, is a pleasure to read. Readers with an interest in the Civil Rights Movement and the tumultuous history of the American South will find much to appreciate in Stallworth's seasoned and layered storytelling.
Character/Execution: Each character Stallworth encounters, no matter how briefly featured, immediately comes to life. The book itself is organized in a manner that is loosely chronological and enjoyable to read. Readers won't soon forget Stallworth's impactful narrative.
Date Submitted: December 28, 2022
Stallworth’s memoir abounds in rich, often surprising scenes, some as complex as that one. His lifetime of thinking through these incidents informs every page, starting with his vivid recounting of a 1950s Alabama childhood of ice-cream, marbles, Conkoleen, and questions about the segregated world around him: at a department store, spying an empty lunch counter, he “couldn’t help but wonder how White Only food tasted, and why was it White Only?” Arresting portraits of friends, family, teachers, and others bring the era to life, as young Stallworth and his father deliver Jet and Ebony magazine around the city known as the most segregated in America.
Also arresting are Stallworth’s accounts of horseplay at Howard University, of seeing a host of notable entertainers (countless luminaries at the Howard Theatre; a young Richard Pryor; a Gene Krupa show at New York’s Cafe Metropole attended by Cassius Clay), of his personal connection to those lost in the 1963 bombing of Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church, of the time he got lost as a Chicago bus driver with furious passengers. The storytelling is conversational, illuminating, and often funny, as this fiercely independent thinker offers a vital contribution to the historical record.
Takeaway: The arresting memoir of a Black doctor’s journey and 1950s Alabama upbringing.
Great for fans of: Charles M. Blow’s Fire Shut Up in My Bones, Damon Tweedy’s Black Man in a White Coat.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: B+