Blue as the Lake: A Personal Geography

Blue as the Lake: A Personal Geography

by Robert B. Stepto
     
 

Blue as the Lake maps out an African-American landscape unique in American literature. From Idlewild, the black resort on Lake Michigan where he vacationed as a child with his grandparents, to Oak Bluffs on Martha's Vineyard, Robert Stepto traces a history of generations finding and making a home. His family lore careens through American history- we meet a black…  See more details below

Overview

Blue as the Lake maps out an African-American landscape unique in American literature. From Idlewild, the black resort on Lake Michigan where he vacationed as a child with his grandparents, to Oak Bluffs on Martha's Vineyard, Robert Stepto traces a history of generations finding and making a home. His family lore careens through American history- we meet a black regiment in World War I; legendary jazz musician Coleman Hawkins, and Inabel Burns, pioneering feminist and great-granddaughter of slaves.

Beautifully and intimately rendered, Stepto's memoir is a stunning meditation on what it means to be American.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Through loosely linked, informal essays Stepto, a professor of English and Afro-American studies at Yale, traces his own past through his family's history and migrations. Starting with his childhood in the Washington Park and Woodlawn sections of Chicago and his family's summer cottage in Idlewild, a black resort on Lake Michigan, Stepto recreates his comfortable, middle-class childhood and mourns the changes that have made it dangerous for him now to walk the streets that once gave his life form and substance. The essays in the second section tell compelling stories about individual members of his multi-racial family, including jazz legend Coleman Hawkins. But they also tell about the diversity of memory, as when he describes differing family legends of how his paternal grandparents met and married. Stepto lets his material speak for itself; his difficult relationship with his father is summed up in a description of a family photo, in which they 'are up against a wall.' The writing is often pure elegy, e.g., when he recalls Hawkins' father 'ending his life by walking into the Missouri River one frosty February morning, his pipe still lit and glowing as he fiercely waded deeper and deeper -- tired, so tired of being a shipping clerk at American Electrical and a `credit to his race' (as reported in the obituary), and maybe tired of his family, too.' Only the final essay, with its cranky observations about black youth culture and the marketing of black images on Martha's Vineyard, falls short of the elegance of the other pieces. Overall, though, these evocative meditations on home and family are thoughtful and moving.
Library Journal
In this intimate memoir, English professor Stepto recounts his childhood in Chicago, his summers vacationing with his grandparents, and his family history from slavery in the East to Missouri.
Laura Green
. . .[A] graceful family memoir. . . .He chronicles six generations of strivers. . .[and includes] generous evocations of time and place. -- The New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
A memoir by an African-American college professor (English and Afro-American Studies/Yale) that is a both a summertime boyhood idyll and a jarring coming-of-age tale. The Stepto family is headed by a well-to-do obstetrician father and is well-grounded in American upper-middle-class values acquired at Spellman College. And nothing is more normal and American than the vivid descriptions of the all-black Great Lakes resort of Idelwild, Mich., where they spend their summers. The conflicts between the quieter, more conservative older generation and their kids, who engage in some dangerous lakeside showboating (recklessly driving yachts), will sound familiar to many readers whose family had a summer place. Much of this memoir is a warm and nostalgic reverie, boy-into-man stuff: there's the first girlfriend and frantic petting by the lake, a summer fling with an out-of-town girl that peters out in the mail 'by Thanksgiving.' At the end of every season the house is boarded up, and the author makes us feel the preciousness of these endless childhood summers when the vacation house is eventually sold (along with his father's dream of retiring in Idlewild). Summers felt more endless as the author's family forced him to read for hours each day. When his friend Mike came over and rejected games to enjoy all the reading material, Stepto's family nodded approvingly and believed that 'thanks to Mike, the race's fate was in good hands.' Race emerges as a significant theme, as the author is too black for white racists (like the ones who refuse to serve his boy scout troop in a restaurant) and too light-skinned for some blacks Visiting his former home in South Chicago brings back memories of playingstickball. At one game a bully wouldn't pick him, teasing him about being too white. Stepto is too proud to 'pass,' like one of his relatives did, and this memoir rebuilds a rock-solid island in the past that he can retreat to whenever being African-American feels like too much of a conundrum.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780807009451
Publisher:
Beacon
Publication date:
09/28/1999
Edition description:
New Edition
Pages:
224
Product dimensions:
5.48(w) x 8.28(h) x 0.67(d)

Meet the Author

Robert B. Stepto, author of From Behind the Veil, is professor of English, American Studies, and Afro-American Studies at Yale University. He lives in Woodbridge, Connecticut.

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