A retired African American federal judge recalls his life’s work and battle with depression in this debut memoir.
In 1982, Kennedy was 32 years old and serving as a judge on the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. It was at this point in his life he was first diagnosed with major depressive disorder. The symptoms were disabling; he describes his “greatly diminished ability to concentrate and communicate, orally and in writing, loss of confidence, and perceived impaired judgment.” These symptoms would force the author to retire from his role in 2011, which he recalls as one of the saddest days of his life. This memoir recounts Kennedy’s childhood, growing up first in Columbia, South Carolina, where he and his family experienced brutal racism, before moving north to Washington, D.C., as part of the “great migration in the 1950s and 1960s of black families out of the South to the North to escape oppression.” The author describes his ascension to the role of federal judge, having graduated from Princeton and attended Harvard Law School. He also discusses notable cases, including key rulings regarding Guantánamo Bay. Kennedy was urged to write a memoir by his therapist as a way of confronting negative impulses. The author notes: “The hope was that I might realize that I am not a disappointment or a failure, feelings that periodically infused my psyche for years, particularly when I was in the grip of depression.” Kennedy’s writing possesses a candidness and clarity of expression even when discussing distressing subjects, such as undergoing transcranial magnetic stimulation: “The device administering the magnetic pulses caused excruciating pain, like someone repeatedly striking my head with a wooden mallet.” Recollections of an inspirational career—the author was the youngest federal judicial officer ever appointed—combined with a lucid account of experiencing mental illness, elevate the autobiography beyond that of an exercise in personal catharsis. This book has something to offer readers with an interest in the American judicial system, those facing depression, and even tennis fans—Kennedy reveals how “with the ability to play pain-free tennis, the long nightmare of depression started to lift.” The author could perhaps have described in even greater detail his approach to beating mental illness, but this is an uplifting success story nonetheless.
A rewarding account of a courtroom career that delivers bold and elegant writing.