Dancing with Strangers: A Memoir

Dancing with Strangers: A Memoir

by Mel Watkins

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Watkins, a former editor at the New York Times Book Review and author of The Real Side, a capacious history of African-American humor, confines himself here to his childhood and youth. Unfortunately, his story lacks sufficient drama or style to achieve full momentum. Watkins grew up in the 1940s and 1950s, the child of black Southerners who landed up north in Youngstown, Ohio, with a promise of "opportunity." Though his parents brawled and his brother went to prison, young Mel was mentored by his fierce and proud father and embraced playing basketball and baseball and reading. Amid overly dense detail, his memoir retains a consistently interesting thread concerning race. Raised unencumbered by "rigid social conventions," Watkins eventually encountered white racism, but his experience in an integrated high school was mostly positive. A scholarship student at Colgate in upstate New York in the early 1960s, he had to adapt to an overwhelmingly white world but found solace in reading Sartre and James Baldwin, and discovered he had no trouble dating both black and white women. Before he graduated, a summer living in Harlem while working as a newspaper copyboy furthered his embrace of black culture, the product, Watkins concluded, not of "primal racial identity... but the externally imposed experience of repression." Further fueled by classroom disparagement of black culture when he returned to Colgate, Watkins resolved to celebrate that culture in his future life. The story leaves the reader wanting to learn more about Watkins's quest, but the book ends a few pages later.
Library Journal
Watkins (On the Real Side, LJ 2/1/94), a former New York Times editor, shares here what his life was like growing up in Youngstown, Ohio, in the Fifties and Sixties in the midst of segregation and racism. He begins his story as the youngest member of a dysfunctional family, with an abusive, out-of-control father. Leaving no stone unturned, Watkins speaks of his brother's drug addiction; his grandparents' interracial relationship, which couldn't result in marriage; his passion for basketball; and his college years. Telling of his attachment to his grandmother and how he benefited from her wisdom, he reveals how devastated he was when she died. He gives an extended view of his college life: his friends, sexual escapades, extracurricular activities, and studies, and then he graduates, thereby ending his tale. Is there life after college? If so, Watkins doesn't fill in that missing piece of the puzzle. Considering that he is nearly 60 years old, it would have been more interesting to learn of his career moves and midlife crises. Without these components, this story is incomplete and less than appealing. Not a necessary purchase.Ann Burns, "Library Journal"
NY Times Book Review
Coming-of-age recollections by a former editor at the Book Review, a black man of independent mind and little patience with those of any race who too easily arrive at conclusions.

Product Details

Simon & Schuster
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.80(d)

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