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Street Shadows: A Memoir of Race, Rebellion, and Redemption Hardcover – January 26, 2010


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam Books; 1st edition (January 26, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0553807552
  • ISBN-13: 978-0553807554
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #110,189 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Jerald Walker on Street Shadows

Privacy in the Public Square

I am a private person. One might even describe me as borderline reclusive, as I find that my best days are often the ones in which my contact with the world’s seven billion humans is restricted to the three with whom I live. It might seem odd, then, that I have written a memoir; as odd, perhaps, as if I had disrobed in the public square. Odder still is that my disrobing--for, in a manner of speaking, that is what I do in Street Shadows--reveals moral imperfections that cause me not only embarrassment but also shame. Delinquency, as it turns out, is not good for the soul.

Nor, at least in my particular case, is the confessional. Chronicling my wrongs and misdeeds did not unburden me of anything. In fact, it burdened me more. This was especially true when I called my 73-year-old mother to read her each completed chapter. Often she responded with pride and admiration at how I turned my life around, but sometimes, when I gave detailed accounts of the darker aspects of my journey, she responded with a mournful, "Oh, Jerry..." or "I can’t believe you did that," or, worst of all, with silence. I was devastated. Because you see, while my mother was aware that my formative years were troubled, she did not know to what extent. Three decades later, I was disappointing her all over again. And yet I continued to call her to read chapters, wholly aware that each person--family and friends, as well as strangers--who read my story might very well echo her dismay.

But I was also aware that my story, in its most basic form, is everyone’s. Once you move past the specifics of my experience--the drug and alcohol abuse, the petty crimes, the racial conflicts, the religious angst, etc.--what you are left with is a person who is on a universal quest to discover who he is and what his place is in the world. I understood that in revealing myself to readers, I might also be revealing readers to themselves. My mother included. As I offered her more and more of my tale, I suspected, and hoped, that her sighs were as much for herself as they were for me. Her joy in my triumphs was also her joy in her own. And so I am inclined to believe that, on some level, I wrote my memoir not to single myself out for attention, not to boast of any uniqueness, but as a way of proclaiming my sameness, and, in so doing, blending into the crowd of humanity. Disrobing in the public square, then, odd though it may seem, could very well be the ultimate expression of privacy. --Jerald Walker

(Photo © Corry De Neef)


From Booklist

“I am a racist,” Walker declares halfway through this thoughtful memoir, and much of the book is spent building up to and unpacking that statement. Born poor on the South Side of Chicago, Walker became an honor student, which made him vulnerable; and in defense, he succumbed to the “urban undertow.” A violent opening puts it all into play: drugs, sex, guns, gangs, and chance. But this is a feint; Walker pulls back from the salacious parts of his past to focus on his university education in Iowa City, his growth as a writer, his beginnings as a teacher, and the fairly banal struggles of being the rare black English professor at an East Coast college. The chapters alternate between his crime-filled youth and his increasingly egalitarian life of sushi dinners and awkward Kwanzaa faculty events, with the latter taking prominence. This will frustrate those looking for a gritty urban drama, but that’s the point—as Walker realizes, his “tale of black teenage delinquency seemed too clichéd.” This unique literary biography, however, is nothing of the sort. --Daniel Kraus

Customer Reviews

Great story of succeeding against all odds...am amazing success story that restores faith and hope.
Dana Y. Bowles
The narratives tend to get a little confusing because of these alternations but even so, this book is a fascinating read.
Ace
This book is truly enjoyable to read, and I felt as i was having a conversation with the writer as I read it.
R. Nowlin

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Suz on December 28, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
As a middle-class, white, Southern, Republican housewife, and after reading the subtitle ("A Memoir of Race, Rebellion, and Redemption), I didn't expect to like Street Shadows much. I expected a liberal-slanted memoir of a black man who was able to rise up from the ghetto despite being held down by The (White) Man. I picked up this book hoping to better understand a black person's view of racism, one (in this case, at least) that I expected to be quite different from my own. I also wanted to learn how Mr. Walker managed to overcome an early life of crime and drug abuse, when so many people fail.

I was pleasantly surprised to find a man who spoke honestly of discrimination of blacks towards whites, as well as of whites towards blacks. I appreciated how he emphasized the dignity of mankind regardless of race, and of universal values. I wholeheartedly embraced his rejection of racial segregation for any reason--even reasons that on the surface seem laudable. Mr. Walker's frustration with prejudice on both sides of the fence, and his candor in sharing his thoughts and feelings, were refreshing and enlightening. It should be noted that Mr. Walker's views and experiences with racism are interwoven with the story. This is indeed an autobiography, not a social commentary. I found it humorous that the publisher's summary and description of Mr. Walker's story make it sound like the exact thing his mentor warned him not to make it--a cliched story of one black man's rise from the ghetto. This is Mr. Walker's life, at times surprisingly and refreshingly contrary to what one might expect.

Mr. Walker's story is told in an honest but somewhat disjointed fashion, even slightly affected on occasion.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By amazonbuyer on February 4, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I wasn't sure if I was going to like this book. I thought that, at the end, a wave of depression and discouragement regarding race relations in the USA would hit me. When I read books like this, it often does. Instead, I finished "Street Shadows" with a feeling of hopefulness. I was encouraged.

Walker's prose and story are magnetic. I had huge reservations, and yet Walker pulled me in and I couldn't put the book down. I was a reluctant reader for a millisecond. After the first page I was a committed and compelled audience of one.

One of my favorite chapters is "When Love Speaks". He ends the chapter with, "And even I, who knew so little about love in those days, knew all there was to know about it then." In the middle of the angry and self-destructive chaos of his life, someone gave Walker a glimpse of something beautiful beyond words. This chapter took my breath away.

"Visible Man" is another wonderful chapter, but in a very different way. I love how it echo's Ellison's theme (Invisible Man) but with a twist. If others are telling you how to be visible and what visibility means, are you really visible or are you someone's shadow?

There are many intensely frightening chapters in "Street Shadows". Those shadows are dispelled as Walker steps out of the scourge of drug abuse and cloud of victimization. But, even after the danger is past, those shadows can be intensely haunting because of the realization that so many young people are still caught in and dying in that land of shadows.

In the end, this is a book of hope and healing in spite of those shadows on the street.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Dana Y. Bowles VINE VOICE on October 24, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
An edge-of-your-seat memoir chronicling the life of a young African-American man and his struggles while growing up the son of blind parents in the inner city. The author takes the reader from present day to past events in the author's life. Falling into a life filled with drugs and crime, it is the death of a good friend that seems to be the climactic moment in this young man's life; the catalyst to move his life into a more positive direction...while also possibly fulfilling his dream of becoming a writer.

Great story of succeeding against all odds...am amazing success story that restores faith and hope. That fact that this is a memoir makes the story even more riveting.

DYB
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The more I read memoirs, the more I realize that probably everyone has had an interesting life. It's more a matter of how they present their lives through words. I think Jerald Walker does it well.

Chapters are short, and they jump from past to present and sort of begin to merge towards the end. (kinda like "Memento" but not confusing) The selections, in general, are really good ones. Certain stories he accounts are really interesting and work well as short chapters. If you think about the big picture, you could account a story in your life. Any story, and glorify it on paper by giving it its own chapter and some sort of moral. I'm not discrediting any of Walker's stories, but as I said... the more I read memoirs, the more I realize that everyone has had an amazing life. Walker could be a nobody, but Joe Schmo probably has just as interesting of a life. Memoirs don't have to be about anyone famous in order to be interesting. If you've ever watched "Behind the Music" on VH1, they managed to make an incredibly enriching episode about every artist they ever did a piece on. Even Milli Vanilli.

But about the book itself... may contain some spoilers... the main issues that seem to be dealt with are battles with his race, drug abuse, school, and relationships. By race battles I mean he constantly seems to be coming to terms with what he [will be labeled as according to society]. There are some interesting interactions with some of the women in his life, his minority status at colleges, and his trip to Africa, which deeply affected him. I found these chapters to be really interesting, and despite many of the selections being short and scattered, they start to tie in as you continue to read.
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