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"Are You a N****r or s Doctor?"

Adult; Memoir; (Market)

Dr. Otto Stallworth Jr. was born and reared in Birmingham, Alabama, during the 1940s, 50s, and early 60s, a city characterized during those years by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as “the most segregated city in America.” Crossed the Alabama state line the first time at age 16 in 1962 to attend Howard University in Washington, D.C., and became the first college graduate in his family. The details of Dr. Stallworth’s life are evocative of friendships, falling in love, and marriages; and a great variety of occupations ranging from discovering and managing a famous music group to driving a city bus on his first trip to Chicago to becoming a doctor. His writing style itself is clear and effective, quirky and compelling, especially the descriptions of friendships from early childhood on, and falling in love, and the humorous stories. There are sad times described, and traumas and problems, but Dr. Stallworth gives these a full range of emotions and I think the reader really feels what the author, Dr. Stallworth, felt, or close to it. His style of writing and his stories are informative, quirky, and compelling. Probably more important, the reader can learn from it. “I wrote stories, never shared, as I remembered events in my life, and as if I were telling them to a friend.” Dr. Stallworth, 2023.

Semi Finalist

Plot/Idea: 9 out of 10
Originality: 10 out of 10
Prose: 9 out of 10
Character/Execution: 10 out of 10
Overall: 9.50 out of 10


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

This engaging, memorably told memoir from Stallworth, an anesthesiologist now retired after a 45 year medical career, builds up to the provocative question in its title. It’s asked of Stallworth in 1970, by an elderly white patient at Case Western Reserve Hospital in Youngstown, Ohio, where Stallworth, at intern at age 24, was the only Black doctor. Stallworth’s response—he essentially says that he’s both—may surprise readers. In this instance, he notes, he heard neither “hatred or evil intent,” the way he had, growing up in Birmingham, when that slur had been hurled “by policemen and by politicians on TV campaigning for mayor or governor.” Stallworth saw the man as “a male patient, an elderly male born in another century, in the 1890s”—and saw himself as a doctor. So, he got to work.

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.

Production grades
Cover: B+
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: B
Editing: A
Marketing copy: B+