Friday, July 17, 2015

How I Shed My Skin


About the Author:
(Taken from

Jim Grimsley is a playwright and novelist who was born in Rocky Mount, North Carolina in 1955. He attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia. Jim's first novel Winter Birds was published by Algonquin Books in the United States in 1994. The novel won the 1995 Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction, given by the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Prix Charles Brisset, given by the French Academy of Physicians. The novel also received a special citation from the Ernest Hemingway Foundation as one of three finalists for the PEN/Hemingway Award. Jim's second novel, Dream Boy, was published by Algonquin in September, 1995, and won the 1996 Award for Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Literature from the American Library Association; the novel was also one of five finalists for the Lambda Literary Award. 

For more information, visit his literati listing.


"White people declared that the South would rise again. Black people raised one fist and chanted for black power. Somehow we negotiated a space between those poles and learned to sit in classrooms together . . . Lawyers, judges, adults declared that the days of separate schools were over, but we were the ones who took the next step. History gave us a piece of itself. We made of it what we could." —Jim Grimsley

More than sixty years ago, the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that America’s schools could no longer be segregated by race.

Critically acclaimed novelist Jim Grimsley was eleven years old in 1966 when federally mandated integration of schools went into effect in the state and the school in his small eastern North Carolina town was first integrated. Until then, blacks and whites didn’t sit next to one another in a public space or eat in the same restaurants, and they certainly didn’t go to school together.

Going to one of the private schools that almost immediately sprang up was not an option for Jim: his family was too poor to pay tuition, and while they shared the community’s dismay over the mixing of the races, they had no choice but to be on the front lines of his school’s desegregation.

What he did not realize until he began to meet these new students was just how deeply ingrained his own prejudices were and how those prejudices had developed in him despite the fact that prior to starting sixth grade, he had actually never known any black people.

Now, more than forty years later, Grimsley looks back at that school and those times--remembering his own first real encounters with black children and their culture. The result is a narrative both true and deeply moving. Jim takes readers into those classrooms and onto the playing fields as, ever so tentatively, alliances were forged and friendships established. And looking back from today’s perspective, he examines how far we have really come.


This is another book that I wouldn't typically pick up on my own.  The subject is beyond intriguing and I was interested to learn more about Jim Grimsley.

The novel is a wonderful mixture of memoir and social commentary.  Grimsley recounts his experiences growing up in the South, of how polite white southerners never used certain words but racists thoughts and actions were laced in a majority of social interactions.

Opening up in the south in 1966, Grimsley recounts Freedom of Choice and how it's implementation was the first spark in his conscious decision to alter how he viewed the world.  Since he was so young, a lot of his actions and choices were not fully understood during that time frame, and not until he is much older did he realize how his up-bringing crafted his view of ethnicity.

While sharing classrooms with other ethnicities, he learned how detrimental his initial views had been and he started taking steps to change his perspective.

I don't want to give away too much of what happens on his journey, so I will end in saying that he reveals several personal experiences that helped mold him into a person who can see individuals instead of ethnicities.  He admits that this is something he still has to be conscious of even today... if only all people were so honest.

One of my favorite social musing was:
"These symmetries were built into images, in the language, in the background of consciousness, foretold everywhere.  Simply reversing the color scheme produced nonsense.  One could not speak of ignorance sweeping over a people like a tide of brightness.  The phrase merely puzzled.  The antagonism of black and white shaped the world of meaning inside my head, and black bore the negative value in all cases."

If you'd like to know more, there are a few great podcasts with the writer.  One of the best is

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