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Guidebook to Relative Strangers: Journeys into Race, Motherhood, and History Hardcover – June 13, 2017
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“Some essay collections challenge your intellect, others break open your heart, a few grant a new way of seeing, and occasionally one sings a song you feel in your bones. It’s rare that a collection hits all four notes, yet Camille T. Dungy's first collection of essays. . . does so with impressive range, ambition, and timeliness. . . . May all of us be as fearless and honest in our self-examination as Dungy is here, and may more essays challenge us to become compassionate, wide-awake humans―for ourselves, our children, and the strangers we encounter.”
- Cate Hodorowicz, The Rumpus
“Motherhood memoirs make up a robust though almost entirely white genre. Camille T. Dungy’s evocative debut . . . meticulously parses the ways in which work, travel and creativity affect black motherhood, and in doing so provides a much needed perspective.”
- Anjali Enjeti, Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Part memoir, part travelogue, part parental guide, this book is a stunningly beautiful love letter from a mother to her daughter to help her daughter embrace the world she lives in, to introduce her to her ancestors, and prepare her for the future.”
- Edwidge Danticat, author of The Art of Death: Writing the Final Story
“Dungy’s prose is like the landscapes she has known: rich, fertile, astoundingly beautiful, and also singular and exacting. What better a voice to explore the rapture of motherhood, the fraught vulnerability of living in a black body, and the beautiful intimacy that can arise between near strangers? Guidebook to Relative Strangers is world-enlarging and indispensable.”
- Tracy K. Smith, US Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Life on Mars
“An elegant, meditative love letter to the life of the writer, the natural world, histories from which we cannot nor should not extricate ourselves, black womanhood, black motherhood, and the unabashed joy of raising up a black girl… [A]s intimate as it is expansive.”
- Roxane Gay, author of Difficult Women
“Calm, lucid, and sturdy, Dungy’s account stares down the effects and unevenly distributed burdens of our shared past and present with clear eyes, full heart, and the kind of dedication to fact, feeling, and history that we truly need now, as ever.”
- Maggie Nelson, author of The Argonauts
“In stirring and insightful prose, the wonder of our shared journey is spelled out on these pages. The music from Dungy’s pen is as intimate as the blues and as epic as a symphony.”
- Tayari Jones, author of Silver Sparrow
“For Dungy, history is a shared root system that nourishes her vital imagination. Guidebook to Relative Strangers is a balm for the American soul.”
- Gregory Pardlo, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Digest
“Dungy’s voice engages as a conversation with a dear friend might, with affection for the possibilities revealed in human relationships. These gorgeous essays are essential and deeply compelling. ”
- Wendy S. Walters, author of Multiply/Divide
About the Author
Camille T. Dungy is an award-winning poet and editor and professor of creative writing at Colorado State University. She lives with her husband and child in Fort Collins, Colorado.
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As others have said, this book is timely, eloquent, wise, insightful, sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreaking, always engaging. As I read, I forgot where I was; I sat in a stopped dark car on a Minnesota highway, I stood in an Inupiaq woman's kitchen in Barrow, I crawled on a suddenly arduous trail in the Adirondacks, I crouched in a slave fort's dungeon in Ghana. A bright thread that runs through the book is Dungy's small daughter Callie, but so many other threads run parallel and across that one: Dungy's life as a writer who travels to do readings, her work as a nature writer, her experience growing up in California, her new life as a wife and a mother, her health, her experience as a woman of color, the intersection of her life with the lives that have gone before. Every word is weft woven carefully across this one poet's life so far.
This book matters quite a bit. And, as I do with all truly good guidebooks, I plan to keep it close and refer to it often.
I often thought of these essays as lines on a map moving toward an unknown, but important, destination. They curved in and out and around seen and unseen obstacles and challenges in history and the present day. Ms Dungy’s reflections and observations are sharp and witty, full of insight about the ways we cannot divorce ourselves from the world we live in and the history of our society. The final essay will still you and leave you with an open book in hand, unsure what to do next.
Ms. Dungy writes powerfully about being black, using her experiences in new places with new people to illustrate how race and privilege affects so many of our interactions. This is essential, accessible, clever reading.