MY SOUL LOOKS BACK by Jessica B. Harris


A Memoir
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An African-American culinary scholar remembers the years she spent among an “extraordinary circle of friends” that included James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, and Nina Simone.

Harris met her greatest love, Samuel Clemens Floyd III, when she was a young French professor in New York. He was 15 years her senior and a former staff writer at Newsweek who taught English at Queen’s College. Youthful insecurity made Harris, a well-educated and accomplished woman, question their relationship: “I’m still not sure just how or why Sam settled on me; perhaps my naïveté attracted him.” Dazzled by Floyd’s sophistication, “quicksilver personality,” and the down-home Southern simplicity that underlay both, Harris was soon drawn into her lover’s remarkable circle of black luminaries. She made lifelong connections with writers Baldwin, Rosa Guy, and Louise Meriwether and made acquaintance with other black artists, including Simone. She and Clemens enjoyed the burgeoning New York City culinary scene of the 1970s and traveled extensively to Haiti, Africa, and France, where they indulged in lively intellectual exchanges and delicious food as well as the friendship of notables like economist Mary Painter and her chef husband, Georges Garin. Along the way, Harris developed a passion for food, which she discovered Clemens’ great friend Maya Angelou also shared. She began writing columns for Essence magazine and, eventually, published two well-regarded cookbooks. As the years passed and she grew more secure in her own identity, she and Clemens drifted apart. Yet her respect and feelings for him never faded, even after she learned that he had contracted AIDS and had deliberately hidden his bisexuality from her throughout their relationship. Peppered throughout with favorite recipes, Harris’ book is a warm recollection of life-changing friendships and personal connections. At the same time, her story offers a unique perspective on some of the greatest African-American intellectuals and artists of the modern era.

A deeply felt and lovingly remembered memoir.

Pub Date: May 9th, 2017
ISBN: 978-1-5011-2590-4
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Scribner
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 2017


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