From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Rhodes-Pitts, an essayist and recipient of the Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer's Award, takes as her title a 1948 essay wherein Ralph Ellison describes "nowhere" as the crossroads where personal reality meets the metaphorical meanings attached to people and places. A transplant to Harlem from Texas, Rhodes-Pitts began a personal journey into the iconic neighborhood, poring over Harlem in literature and life, reading its empty lots and street scenes, its billboards and memorials for clues to what it means to inhabit a dream (that fabled sanctuary for Black Americans) and a real place (the all too material neighborhood buckling beneath relentless gentrification). Acutely conscious of the writer's simultaneous role of participant in and recorder of present and past, Rhodes-Pitts weaves a glittering living tapestry of snatches of overheard conversation, sidewalk chalk scribbles, want ads, unspoken social codes, literary analysis, studies of black slang--all if it held together with assurance and erudition. Like Zora Neale Hurston (whose contradictions she nails), she is "tour-guide and interpreter" of a Mecca cherished and feared, a place enduring and threatened that becomes home. (Jan.)
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Harlem is firmly enshrined at the very center of African American culture and has been much celebrated and chronicled since the growing numbers of blacks coming to New York were met with housing discrimination that forced them into the neighborhood in the late 1800s. Rhodes-Pitts compares and contrasts her own experience of moving from Texas to Harlem with accounts from literature of the Harlem Renaissance and other cultural glories and news reports of gentrification. She recalls characters from Alain Locke, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Ralph Ellison, and other writers who struggled to find a place for themselves in Harlem even as she listens in on tour-guide lectures and reads contemporary accounts of the changing real-estate and cultural landscape of Harlem that signify a very different future than the one imagined by the fiction writers. Settling into her own place in Harlem, she offers vivid portraits of the residents, who straddle the past and present of the storied neighborhood, many wondering themselves about their futures and the future of Harlem. --Vanessa Bush