In response to the murder of George Floyd, we are making the essay “Breathe”—which will appear in the 2020 Best American Essays—available here. Jerald Walker says, “‘Breathe’ is about trying to protect black sons from racism, and about finding a way to breathe despite the forces that would stop us.”
“Walker … delivers a stylish and thought-provoking collection of reflections on his personal and professional life.…[His] rich compilation adds up to a rewardingly insightful self-portrait that reveals how one man relates to various aspects of his identity.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“No one—absolutely no one—I’ve read is writing better than Jerald Walker about race, being black, and the depths and complexities of our humanity.” —Charles Johnson, author of Middle Passage, winner of the National Book Award
“These extraordinarily candid essays crackle with humor and dramatic tension. Jerald Walker is one of the most gifted essayists of our time.” —Robert Atwan, series editor, Best American Essays
“This piercing and restless collection slices through this country’s agitated racial landscape with the tenacity of a thunderbolt.”— Patricia Smith, author of Incendiary Art
“These essays are relentlessly humane even as they stare into America’s split, racist heart.”—Ander Monson, author of I Will Take the Answer
“If there is a book you need to read as our country is about to devour itself, it is How to Make a Slave.”— Ira Sukrungruang, author of Buddha’s Dog and Other Meditations
For the black community, Jerald Walker asserts in How to Make a Slave, “anger is often a prelude to a joke, as there is broad understanding that the triumph over this destructive emotion lay in finding its punchline.” It is on the knife’s edge between fury and farce that the essays in this exquisite collection balance. Whether confronting the medical profession’s racial biases, considering the complicated legacy of Michael Jackson, paying homage to his writing mentor James Alan McPherson, or attempting to break free of personal and societal stereotypes, Walker elegantly blends personal revelation and cultural critique. The result is a bracing and often humorous examination by one of America’s most acclaimed essayists of what it is to grow, parent, write, and exist as a black American male. Walker refuses to lull his readers; instead his missives urge them to do better as they consider, through his eyes, how to be a good citizen, how to be a good father, how to live, and how to love.
Jerald Walker is the author of The World in Flames: A Black Boyhood in a White Supremacist Doomsday Cult and Street Shadows: A Memoir of Race, Rebellion, and Redemption, winner of the 2011 PEN New England Award for Nonfiction. He has published in magazines such as Creative Nonfiction, Harvard Review, Missouri Review, River Teeth, Mother Jones, Iowa Review, and Oxford American, and he has been widely anthologized, including five times in The Best American Essays. The recipient of James A. Michener and National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, Walker is Professor of Creative Writing at Emerson College.
How to Make a Slave
The Heritage Room
The Designated Driver
Once More to the Ghetto
Advice to a Family Man