A lyrical, mannered memoir in which the American-British playwright and novelist returns to the South Side of Chicago, where she grew up in the 1950s and ’60s in a poor, segregated neighborhood.
Most of Greer’s work (Langston Hughes: the Value of Contradiction, 2011, etc.) was produced after her move to England in 1986 and thus is not well-known on this side of the Atlantic. In her beautifully wrought yet occasionally meandering narrative, the author taps back into the poor, hardworking spirit of her parents, very much the products of the Great Migration from the South after the turn of the century, and the rampant and stifling discrimination that also prevailed in Chicago as she grew up. She writes poignantly of her factory-worker father, who was raised in Jim Crow Mississippi only to endure the added humiliation of serving in the Army during World War II when German prisoners of war were treated better than black servicemen; and her light-skinned mother, self-described as “a little piece of leather that’s well put together,” who became a housewife and bore seven children—Greer being the eldest. They were working poor, able to attend Catholic school and move to a house of their own on the South Side. Observing her beautiful mother exhausted and restricted to the home gave Greer a good idea of what she did not want to do with her life. She tried studying law and was always writing, but she did not have the confidence to assert herself during the tumultuous period of her university years in Chicago, when Black Power was gathering strength. She had affairs with professors and white men and found a family among a welcoming gay community she calls “the Boys.” She ends with her move to New York City at age 30.
Greer’s mellifluous work should introduce her to new readers.