Dancing with Strangers by Mel Watkins
A Memoir

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Arresting prose and a provocative conclusion - challenging the idea that our destinies are fundamentally linked to race - distinguish this memoir of growing up black in the American Midwest in the turbulent 1930s and 1960s. Set in an Ohio steel town and an exclusive, upstate New York private university, Dancing with Strangers is an evocative remembrance of an American's coming of age during the decade preceding the sixties' revolutionary transformation of American society. A dramatic, novelistically rendered account, it is the story of an individual's triumphant struggle for personal identity during an era when conformity, class, race, and political xenophobia dominated the American landscape. Watkins's family fled Tennessee for Ohio before he was born, when his father pistol-whipped a white neighbor who attacked one of his sons. In Dancing with Strangers, Watkins looks back upon his own life in the midst of the nation's roiling social currents during the tumultuous times when Brown v. the Board of Education and the civil rights movement took hold. Whether Watkins is writing about his combative father's furious, if sometimes misguided, struggles to exert his manhood; his parents' continuous, sometimes violent, feuding; his much-admired brother, in and out of jail and drug addiction his entire life; his touching relationship with his grandmother whose stories inspired and transported him; or his own quest for identity through achievement within the sports and intellectual worlds, his prose soars. Throughout this memoir, Watkins gives eloquent expression to the belief, shared by many Americans who have themselves overcome difficult circumstances, that an individual's destiny and identity are shaped as much by his responses to personal challenges as by racial matters that too often are merely smoke screens.
 

About Mel Watkins

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MEL WATKINS is a professor of economics and political science at University College, University of Toronto. He is an editor of "This Magazine" where he writes the Innis Memorial Column.
 
Published February 11, 1998 by Simon & Schuster. 320 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History. Non-fiction

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A former editor at the New York Times Book Review and the author of a well-received history of African-American humor (On the Real Side, 1994), Watkins here recalls his 1950s coming-of-age as a black youth in Youngstown, Ohio, and a student at mostly white Colgate University in Hamilton, New York.

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Publishers Weekly

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but the externally imposed experience of repression."" Further fueled by classroom disparagement of black culture when he returned to Colgate, Watkins resolved to celebrate that culture in his future life.

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