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An American Odyssey from the Inner City to the Ivy League

by Ron Suskind

Pub Date: May 27th, 1998
ISBN: 0-7679-0125-8
Publisher: Broadway

Suskind, a journalist, tells the story of one African-American youth’s rise from poverty-stricken Anacostia, in southeast Washington D.C., to the ivied halls of Brown University. In 1995, Suskind won a Pulitzer Prize for two articles he wrote for the Wall Street Journal on Cedric Jennings, an African- American student at one of the poorest schools in the capital, whose studiousness and ambition earn him a place in MIT’s summer program for minority youth. Suskind’s book expands on that story, extending it to Cedric’s admission to Brown University and first year there. Suskind weaves interviews with Cedric, his family, teachers, and friends into a narrative that shows the challenges facing a ghetto youth bent on academic achievement. Paradoxically, both the inner-city code of youthful male behavior and the teachings of the Pentecostal church Cedric attends with his mother conspire to discourage intellectual distinction. The drama of the story is in the mediations Cedric learns to make between the inherited and the chosen, yet “unseen,” parts of his life. Suskind plays to the sense of closure and, in this case, a happy ending the very format of a book (unlike a newspaper article) encourages, but cannot really achieve here, since Cedric’s life at college, and beyond, is still in process. By the end of the book, the young man has forgiven his high school nemeses, been reconciled with his absent father, and found social acceptance at Brown. Left hanging is the question of the ultimate success of Cedric’s quest, which he is still only beginning. One senses the existence of conflicts unresolved and questions unanswered. This engaging success story leaves behind a troubling aftertaste of personal and social wounds that appear to have been too artfully healed. ($50,000 ad/promo; author tour)