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Colored People: A Memoir Hardcover – May 10, 1994

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In a warm, gracefully written, moving autobiographical reminiscence, Gates, chairman of Harvard's Afro-American Studies department, recalls growing up in the 1950s and '60s in Piedmont, W.Va., an immigrant working-class town where the only work available to blacks at the local paper mill was loading trucks. Devastated at age 12 by the onset of his mother's depressive disorder, Gates joined a Baptist church and desperately pursued a "restrictive fundamentalism." While avidly embracing "black power" in the mid-1960s, he yearned for approval from his father, who was "hard on colored people." This engrossing narrative of Gates's intellectual, political, sexual and emotional awakening is studded with memorable incidents such as his discovery that his mother, years before he was born in 1950, led a pioneering civil rights march. 40,000 first printing; BOMC and QPB alternates.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

The man touted as America's most celebrated black scholar reminisces to his daughters about his boyhood in the polluted, dying Allegheny Mountains' papermill town of Piedmont, West Virginia. Laying out the social and emotional topography of a world shifting from segregation to integration and from colored to Negro to black, Gates evokes a bygone time and place as he moves from his birth in 1949 to 1969, when he goes off to Yale University after a year at West Virginia's Potomac State College. His pensive and sometimes wistful narrative brims with the mysteries and pangs and lifelong aches of growing up, from his encounters with sexuality, to the discovery of intellectual exhilaration as he is marked to excel in school, to his suffering a crippling injury to one of his legs and struggling frightfully for his father's respect. There is much to recommend this book as a story of boyhood, family, segregation, the pre-Civil Rights era, and the era when Civil Rights filtered down from television to local reality. Highly recommended.
--Thomas J. Davis, SUNY at Buffalo
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 216 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1st edition (May 10, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679421793
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679421795
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (123 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,860,473 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

It was a hard book to read because I was very confused at times as to what was going on.
David Lai
Colored People by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is a great story about a young "colored" boy living in Piedmont, WV in the 1950-60s.
The book is filled with humorous and heart wrenching stories that can be enjoyed by all.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 25, 1999
Format: Hardcover
So removed from my own experience but a story told with such grace, it will always be one of my favorite books. I read it when it was published some time ago and have not forgotten the real sense of place and people. As a white female wasp from New England, I'm not sure I understand why it affected me so. Lost communities that we gave up in the name of something else. On the one hand, it made me think there will always be a separateness and, on the other hand, that we all want the kind of community and gentle exchange that seemed at the heart of the people in this book. The use of the language is admirable - the writing - but it was what I took away about my own very different life that made the book memorable. It's a scholarly work in its way but simple, clear and classic.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By James Carragher on July 9, 2000
Format: Paperback
Personally, I had a heckuva time keeping track of all the various Gates and Coleman relatives, so I gave up after the first forty pages or so and just appreciated this memoir for what it is -- the story of a community that no longer exists but will be alive for generations through Gates' evocation of it for his children and, vicariously, the readers of this book. As a white age contemporary of Gates, I was impressed by the evenhandedness with which he tells the story of the often grudging desegregation of the late 50s and 60s in West Virginia, and surprised by the extent of black/white interaction -- sometimes positive for Gates -- in this small town, even in the days of segregation. That is obviously a function of small town life, but it struck me as more than in many parts of US life today, leading to the question I wondered about throughout this book -- whether 46 years after Brown vs. Board of Education we are more, not less, isolated by color in our social interactions in the United States. If so, that's a tragedy for all of us.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Rhonda S. White on November 7, 2005
Format: Paperback
Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is an extraordinary scholar, particularly on African-American issues. He was born and raised in Piedmont, West Virginia during the time of early racial desegregation and, as a black man, was directly influenced by this dramatically historical period. Gates graduated summa cum laude from Yale University with a degree in history, then received a Ph.D. in English from Cambridge.

He has written for The New Yorker, The Village Voice, Time, The New Republic, and other prominent magazines. In addition to Colored People: A Memoir, Gates has authored and co-authored several books including Figures in Black: Works, Signs, and the "Racial" Self (1987), The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of Afro-American Literary Criticism (1988), and Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Man (1997).

The preface to Colored People is a letter from Gates to his daughters, Maggie and Liza and, though the book is dedicated to his father Henry Louis Gates, Sr. and in memory of his mother Pauline Augusta Coleman Gates, the entire autobiography is written in conversational tone, as if Gates were recounting his stories not only to his daughters, but to their entire generation.

Gates' collection of memories describes the era, long since past (both for good and for bad) when blacks and whites were segregated, and the subsequent integration of these colors, and what it was like to live in that world, and be a part of it's evolution. The title Colored People is beautifully appropriate, not only for the shades of black America it represents, but for each and every one of us; black, white, red, yellow: none of us are see-through.

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. invites us to live with him in Piedmont, West Virginia, and experience life-black life-through his eyes.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Kurt Conner VINE VOICE on May 18, 2010
Format: Paperback
I admit, I only bought this book to make a political statement in support of Professor Gates after the incident with Cambridge Police last summer (and I bought it half price at a used book store because I didn't need to make that much of a statement). I hoped for a well-told memoir with insight into the life of someone who grew up in a much different way than I did, and Professor Gates really delivered. This book focuses on the author's childhood, from the early days absorbing the details of his extended family and tight African American community within a small town in West Virginia. The book also follows his journey through recently desegregated schools, restaurants, hotels, and department stores, with a few inter-racial romantic relationships along the way to keep everything interesting, but I found the early observations much more compelling. Essentially, this is a rich and warm recollection of a childhood spent in a quirky but loving community, and although the occasionally frank sexuality will likely make some readers uncomfortable, I recommend it. Even for readers who aren't interested in making political statements.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Dera R Williams VINE VOICE on April 16, 1999
Format: Paperback
This memoir had me laughing throughout, but it was also though provoking. The descriptions were so vivid, you believed you are right there in that little town witnessing Mr. Gates live and the lives of his family. I gave the book to my mother and she loved it also. Coming from a small town in Arkansas, there were alot of similarites. This book was a departure from his normal intellectual writings but no less educational.
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