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How I Shed My Skin

Unlearning the Racist Lessons of a Southern Childhood

By Jim Grimsley

In August of 1966, Jim Grimsley entered the sixth grade in the same public school he had attended for the five previous years, in his small eastern North Carolina hometown. But he knew that the first day of this school year was going to be different: for the first time he’d be in a classroom with black children. That was the year federally mandated integration of the schools went into effect, at first allowing students to change schools through “freedom of choice,” replaced two years later by forced integration.

For Jim, going to one of the private schools that almost immediately sprang up was not an option: his family was too poor to consider paying tuition, and while they shared the community’s dismay over the mixing of the races, they had bigger, more immediate problems to contend with.

Now, over forty years later, Grimsley, a critically acclaimed novelist, revisits that school and those times, remembering his own personal reaction to his first real exposure to black children and to their culture, and to his growing awareness of his own mostly unrecognized racist attitudes. Good White People is both true and deeply moving, an important work that takes readers inside those classrooms and onto the playing fields as, ever so tentatively, alliances were forged and friendships established.

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Review quotes
“Grimsley impersonates his younger self with great skill and delicacy. His voice is finely calibrated to recreate a certain innocence and wonder at the grown-up world and its curious ways . . . He doesn’t pretend that simply sitting next to black classmates suddenly changed his way of looking at the world; he acknowledges that the process occurred over many years and much searching.”—New York Times Book Review

"From the protests in Ferguson to the movie about Selma, race has been at the forefront of the national conversation recently. On the news and at our dinner tables, the country is discussing how far we still have to go. How I Shed My Skin by Jim Grimsley, is a white writer's story of that journey -- where we've come from and how we move foward." —The Washington Post

“A powerful meditation on race.” —Natasha Trethewey, US Poet Laureate

“The lacunae underscore the divides between blacks and whites in the civil rights–era South, a gap Grimsley has spent most of his life trying to bridge. How I Shed My Skin recalls those efforts and serves to remind us that, decades later, there is still much more work to do.” —Emory Magazine

“[Grimsley’s] memories of junior high and high school remain especially vivid and poignant, and he recalls them in sometimes agonizing detail in How I Shed My Skin . . . Like Randall Kenan, he catches the weird ethos of a generation caught with one foot in Gone with the Wind or To Kill a Mockingbird and another in the world of “Star Trek” and Motown . . . How I Shed My Skin reminds us how far we’ve come in 40 years, and how far we didn’t go.” —Wilmington Star News

“Grimsley has a powerful tale to tell, about change, and the fears and triumphs that go with it . . . Despite the continued crossfire, he and his classmates -- 'cool and slouched, shy and lost' -- desegregated the schools of Jones County and became instruments of its history.” —Bookreporter.com

“[A] beautifully introspective memoir . . . In a world that continues to struggle with race relations, How I Shed My Skin is a stunning beacon of hope.” —Shelf Awareness for Readers

“Powerful . . . Grimsley’s brave self-examination of his own childhood prejudices makes this book personal; his struggle to reconcile and overcome those prejudices makes it universal and well worth reading.” —Birmingham Magazine

“Beautiful and brilliant . . . How I Shed My Skin does more to explore the racially inspired shootings and hate crimes of our present time than anything I have read.” —Washington Missourian

“Jim Grimsley isn’t one to shy away from the pained and difficult memories of his childhood . . . haunting.” —KirkusReviews.com

“Looking back some 40 years later, acclaimed writer Grimsley offers a beautifully written coming-of-age recollection from the era of racial desegregation.” —Booklist, starred review

“In this sensitive memoir, Grimsley probes the past to discover what and how he learned about race, equality and democracy ‘from the good white people’ in his family and community.” —Kirkus Reviews
Product Details
Categories
Number of pages
288
Publication date
February 23, 2016
ISBN
9781616205348