February 3 - Author Jerald Walker

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Talk and Signing:
6:00 p.m.
Chicago Public Library
400 S. State Street

To purchase a copy of the book:

Street Shadows: A Memoir of Race, Rebellion, and Redemption

Street Shadows is the story of a young man's youthful descent into the "thug life" and the wake-up call that led to his finding himself again.

Walker and his six siblings were born in a Chicago housing project and raised on the notorious South Side by parents of modest means but solidly middle-class values and aspirations. A boy of great promise, whose parents and teachers saw success in his future, he seemed destined to fulfill their hopes. But by age fourteen he began to turn his back on their dreams for him. Drawn to the streets, like so many young boys in his world, he followed the lead of one of his older brothers, and by age seventeen he had become a high school dropout, drug and alcohol abuser, and gang-banger.

During the years that followed, his life spiraled further out of control, and he seemed headed, at best, for a life of petty crime and serial prison sentences, or, at worst, towards the violent and all-too-familiar premature end of many an African American male.

Then came the blast of gunfire that changed everything. His brother called to tell him that his coke dealer and friend Greg had been shot to death--less than an hour after Walker himself had scored a gram from him. "Twenty-five years later, tossing the drug out the window is still the second most difficult thing I've ever done. The most difficult thing is still that I didn't follow it."

So begins the story, told in alternating time frames, of the journey he took to become the man he is today. It is a classic coming-of-age story, but also an account of life as an African American in this country, as we watch not just Walker but his parents and each of his six siblings make their own difficult--and very different--choices about how to live.

Against all odds, Walker began his life anew, enrolling in a community college, finding mentors, and eventually earning a place at Iowa Writers' Workshop, where he developed his gifts. But his struggle to escape the long shadows of the streets didn't end so easily. There were racial stereotypes to overcome--his own as well as those of the very white world he found himself in--and a hard grappling with the meaning of race that came to an unexpected climax on a trip to Africa. And always there was the dilemma of how to remain true to himself while embracing a way of life very different from anything he had imagined his future would hold when he was growing up.

An eloquent account of how the past shadows but need not determine the present, this is the opposite of a victim narrative. Walker casts no blame (except on himself), sheds no tears (except for those who have not shared his good fortune), and refuses the temptations of self-pity and self-exoneration. In the end, what he has written is a stirring story of two Americas--one hopeless, the other inspirational--embodied in one man.

Jerald Walker is an associate professor of English at Bridgewater State College in Massachusetts. He attended the Iowa Writers' Workshop, where he was a teaching/writing fellow and James A. Michener Fellow. "We Are Americans," which is a chapter excerpt from this book, was chosen for Best African American Essays: 2009. Two other chapters were chosen for Best American Essays (2007 & 2009). His work has also appeared in Mother Jones and the anthology Brothers: 26 Stories of Love and Rivalry. He is married and the father of two young sons. He lives and teaches in Bridgewater, Massachusetts.

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