PROJECT GIRL by Janet McDonald


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Anger-filled memoirs, partly straight narrative and partly excerpts from a journal, of a professional black woman whose journey from a low-income housing project in Brooklyn to a law office in Paris is replete with violence, hostility, and alienation. McDonald, the middle of seven children, was singled out early as gifted. She recounts how a supportive program at Harlem Prep gained her admission to Vassar. Here, in a WASP world far from her family in the projects, her feelings of fear and isolation led her to heroin. Fortunately, Vassar provided counseling, sent her home on medical leave, and readmitted her the next year. She spent her junior year in Paris, meeting blacks from all parts of the world and having some of her racial and cultural stereotypes shattered. Law school at Cornell followed, but her academic career was again interrupted, this time by a vicious rape followed by a nervous breakdown. At New York University, where she transferred, McDonald, still filled with fear and obsessed with homicidal and suicidal urges, was arrested for arson. Ousted from NYU, she went to the Columbia School of Journalism, where she interned at both a French press agency in Paris (where people are ""full of life, not ambition"") and at Newsweek in New York (where she felt like ""an overeducated slave on the bottom of the white patriarch's totem pole""). Abandoning journalism, McDonald reapplied to NYU and, at age 32, graduated from law school. However, living in a Manhattan high-rise and working in a midtown corporate law office was misery for her, and her weekends were spent back at the projects in Brooklyn. ""I no longer belong in the projects, but still to them,"" her journal notes. Eventually, McDonald moved to France, abandoning the US and her struggle to belong. Powerful and painful reminder of the enormous gap between the culture of an inner-city black ghetto and middle-class white America--one so wide that education alone cannot be counted on to bridge it.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0520223454
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: "Farrar, Straus & Giroux"