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My Soul Looks Back: A Memoir Hardcover – May 9, 2017
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"[N]ever, to this reader, uninteresting ... “My Soul Looks Back” has a simmering warmth."
—The New York Times
"Eloquent and infinitely delightful."
"Harris intimately reflects on her friendships with these fascinating individuals and their social circle, capturing an era that was vibrant with creativity, art, activism, and intellectual life."
"My Soul Looks Back is a great New York City memoir; I thought of James Wolcott’s Lucking Out and Patti Smith’s Just Kids, both documents of the city in the seventies, as well as books from an earlier New York, like Anatole Broyard’s Kafka Was the Rage and Mary Cantwell’s Manhattan, When I Was Young ... I finished the book eager to find a noisy neighborhood restaurant where the wine is served in mismatched glasses and the specials are under twenty dollars."
"[Harris] is a born storyteller and her memoir is a joy to read—a beautiful portrait of a remarkable era."
"A friend of celebrated authors Maya Angelou and James Baldwin, Harris was part of a fascinating social circle in the early ’70s. She shares a unique look at their lives and work, while also opening up about her own career and relationship with one of Baldwin’s colleagues. As a bonus, each chapter has a related recipe."
"This is a lively, entertaining, and informative recounting of a time and place that shaped and greatly enriched American culture."
"Scenic and engaging, My Soul Looks Back recounts the years author Jessica B. Harris spent on the periphery of a circle of friends that included literary powerhouses James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, and Toni Morrison. The memoir spans the globe and several decades to describe the fascinating group."
"Come for the insight into the circle of friends that first resolved around James Baldwin, then shifted orbit to revolve around Maya Angelou. Stay because you're enraptured by the candid, passionate woman narrating from the periphery. This is an intimate look at an inner circle of Black writers, scholars, and glamazons moving through the middle of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first, told with bold tenderness by a woman who grew up in their company, under their gaze."
—Alice Randall, author of Ada's Rules and The Wind Done Gone
"At table, before a lectern, or on the page, no matter where we encounter Jessica B. Harris, she commands our attention. My Soul Looks Back, her most intimate book, showcases an era when the Black artistic elite flowered and Jessica, along with her love Sam Floyd, lunched with Maya Angelou in California, shared popcorn with James Baldwin in the South of France, and nurtured a social aesthetic that spangled, all too briefly, beneath the kliegs."
—John T. Edge, author of The Potlikker Papers: A Food History of the Modern South
About the Author
Jessica B. Harris holds a PhD from NYU, teaches English at Queens College, and lectures internationally. The author of the memoir My Soul Looks Back as well as twelve cookbooks, her articles have appeared in Vogue, Food & Wine, Essence, and The New Yorker, among other publications; she has made numerous television and radio appearances and has been profiled in The New York Times. Considered one of the preeminent scholars of the food of the African Diaspora, Harris has been inducted into the James Beard Who’s Who in Food and Beverage in America, received an honorary doctorate from Johnson & Wales University and recently helped the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture to conceptualize its cafeteria.
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I really enjoyed the personal tone of the book. It was juicy without becoming mean or gossipy. I loved that each chapter ended with a recipe - it tied her academic interests beautifully with her personal life and how important shared meals were.
I read this book in one sitting. I didn't have the self-control to pace myself and savor each chapter. I plan to re-read it more slowly in the near future.
An extremely intuitive 1970s memoir in Manhattan with precise, local detail. I had really geeked out over the mention of James Baldwin being part of the author's circle of creative, sage, intellectual friends (since I just watched the documentary, I Am Not Your Negro). The author gains entry into this circle by way of Samuel Clemons Floyd III's involvement in the SEEK program (dates him and shares his interests of sonorous gospel music, poetry, and golf) and attends/hosts flush & lush dinner parties. Recipes for New Years' kale, ten-boy curry. She describes her childhood, family, upbringing, going to United Nations International School (learns French), High School of Performing Arts, and Bryn Mawr; travels to Europe, sub-Saharan Africa, Haiti, Cote d'Ivoire (initially called a bitch by Nina Simone, but quickly recruited as a personal assistant once she finds that the author knows French). Sam's dies from complications of AIDS in the late 1980s and mourns him with Maya Angelou. The book finishes with aftermaths/postscripts on each member of her social circle.
**I received a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for an honest review**
Soul Sistahs Book Club
Eloquently written by Jessica Harris this tale is a must for anyone born before 1950.