The Grace of Silence: A Memoir

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Overview

In the wake of talk of a "post-racial America" upon the ascendance of Barack Obama as president of the United States, Michele Norris, host of National Public Radio's All Things Considered, set out, through original reporting, to write a book about "the hidden conversation on race" that is going on in this country. But along the way she unearthed painful family secrets--from her father's shooting by the Birmingham police within weeks of his discharge from service in World War II to her grandmother's peddling ...

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The Grace of Silence: A Memoir

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Overview

In the wake of talk of a "post-racial America" upon the ascendance of Barack Obama as president of the United States, Michele Norris, host of National Public Radio's All Things Considered, set out, through original reporting, to write a book about "the hidden conversation on race" that is going on in this country. But along the way she unearthed painful family secrets--from her father's shooting by the Birmingham police within weeks of his discharge from service in World War II to her grandmother's peddling pancake mix as an itinerant Aunt Jemima.

In what became an intensely personal and bracing journey, Norris traveled from her childhood home in Minneapolis to her ancestral roots in the Deep South to explore "things left unsaid" by her family when she was growing up. Along the way she discovers how character is forged by both repression and revelation. She learns how silence became a form of self-protection and a means of survival for her parents--strivers determined to create a better life for their children at a time when America was beginning to experiment with racial equality--as it was for white Americans who grew up enforcing strict segregation (sometimes through violence) but who now live in a world where integration is the norm.

Extraordinary for Norris's candor in examining her own complex racial legacy, The Consequence of Silence is also informed by hundreds of interviews with ordinary Americans and wise observations about evolving attitudes toward race in America. It is concerned with assessing the truth of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder's assertion that vis-à-vis race, ours is a nation of cowards, for often what is left unsaid is more important than what is openly discussed.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307748928
  • Publisher: Books on Tape, Inc.
  • Publication date: 9/21/2010
  • Format: MP3
  • Edition description: Unabridged
  • Ships to U.S.and APO/FPO addresses only.

Meet the Author

Michele Norris, host of All Things Considered, is cowinner of the Alfred I. duPont–Columbia University Award for The York Project: Race and the ‘08 Vote and was chosen in 2009 as Journalist of the Year by the National Association of Black Journalists. She has written for, among other publications, The Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, and the Los Angeles Times. As a correspondent for ABC News from 1993 to 2002, she earned Emmy and Peabody awards for her contribution to the network’s 9/11 reporting. She has been a frequent guest commentator on Meet the Press, The Chris Matthews Show, and Charlie Rose. Norris lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband and children.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Read an Excerpt

Daddy

My father was one of those people who are most comfort­able at the fringes, away from the action center stage. He did not need or crave attention. Instead, he was driven by the need to reassure others that everything was going to be all right. Belvin Norris Jr. was a fixer. An eternal optimist to the core. You could see it in his smile. As a grown man he still grinned like a schoolboy, and you could not help but grin along with him. His vibe was contagious. Kindness is usually seen as altru­istic. But it can also be an act of desperation, satisfying a deep-seated need to avoid the mind's darker places. Benevolence, for some, is a survival tactic.

Even in his last hours my father practiced benevolence, always looking out for everybody else. Moments after the doctor delivered devastating news about his health, my father, still smiling, pointed to an infected cut on my left hand. It was his way of prodding the emergency room physician to turn his attention to me. The victim opting to be the benefactor.

Dad took ill in June 1988, while visiting his brother Simpson in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The minute he called me I knew some­thing awful had happened. His voice was graveled, his words rubbery. He couldn't put a sentence together, and the failed effort only added to his frustration. He had lost control of his speech, but he managed to hold on to his sunny disposition. Although his words were incomprehensible, I sensed a false cheer, with each attempt at speech ending on an elevated note--the kind of verbal leap parents of very young children use to mask irritation or fear.

I was working as a newspaper reporter in Chicago at the time. Dad had stopped by to visit me on his way to Uncle Simpson's house. We had spent a few days going to baseball games and trying to get my kitchen in order. He was relieved to see that I'd finally learned to enjoy spending time at the stove. I showed off for him with jambalaya and pineapple upside-down cake. It worked. He set small talk aside, went back for seconds, and still had room for a huge piece of cake. When he was fin­ished he dabbed his mouth and said, "Maybe now you'll find someone who will put up with you."

To another person, this might have sounded like a dig, but I knew what he meant. I could use my kitchen skills to cook at home and save money and to help "close the deal" when I found the right man. I was twenty-six and living on my own in Chicago. No husband. No roommate. Just me in a second-story duplex apartment with high ceilings, a large kitchen, and actual furniture. For years my father had visited me at various apart­ments where the most comfortable chair had been either a wooden crate or something recovered from the curb on trash day. He never let me forget an embarrassing episode when I was living in southern California. A neighbor stopped by my Man­hattan Beach apartment to borrow a coffee filter one Saturday morning. She couldn't stop staring at the wingback armchair in which my father sat reading the Los Angeles Times. "You know, Michele," she said, "that looks like the chair I threw out for bulk trash pickup a few weeks ago."

My neighbor left with her borrowed coffee filter and a piece of my dignity. Lucky for me, my father had a sense of humor and a strong commitment to thrift. He always believed that the prettiest car on the road was the one that was paid in full, and in his book the most attractive chair in my cramped living room that day was the one that had arrived without a price tag. We had a good laugh, and when he left, he snuck an envelope into my jewelry box with "sofa fund" written on...

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 30 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 30 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 6, 2012

    Interesting read

    I enjoyed this book for the subject matter as well as the questions it raised. I've long asserted that an OPEN AND HONEST dialogue on race relations in America is long overdue! I would like to see the issue addressed head on with frankness and candor on all fronts because until that happens there will always be a race issue!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 23, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    An Enjoyable Read

    This book helps me to understand my own parents a bit better. They, too, have not always spoken about the events they experienced as African Americans growing up in the mid-20th century. Through her own experience Norris gives me an insight into why as well as helping me to appreciate their experience better.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 17, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Heart Rending

    It took me a long time to read this book, not because it wasn't well written, but because of how it made me feel. The story was about an African-American voyage through the complexities of American culture, but I read it as a story of a family. I couldn't help but love Michele's parents from her descriptions about them. They were wonderful, strong people, who worked hard to raise a daughter able to work her way through the muck of racism into a different world. The part that stopped me in my tracks was the fact that these two very wonderful people couldn't keep their marriage together. Michele talked about how they tried to keep things amicable between them to protect her from the problems a divorce normally creates. No matter how hard they tried to keep their family earthquake from impacting their daughter, the echoes of their divorce rang through her memoir. How sad that her memoir didn't include a joyous couple thrilled at their successful daughter. How sad that her father died of cancer without the woman he loved at his side. I ached for the couple who couldn't work their issues out, and I ached for a daughter who felt the emptiness from having her parents divorced. In the end, this book may have meant to be a walk through the American culture of racism, it became, for me at least, a commentary on how the pain of a divorce echoes through generations yet to be.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 13, 2012

    Interesting book on Race in America

    This is a good read. A very well written book. I lets the reader better understand how much harder life is for people of color. Highly recommend.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 9, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Very good

    Excellent insight to blacks after wwii

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 10, 2014

    I Also Recommend:

    wow good book

    wow good book

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  • Posted April 4, 2013

    My overall review about the book The Grace Silence, is that I th

    My overall review about the book The Grace Silence, is that I thought the book was very good, my first thought was this was another book about racism and secrets,but as I began to readthe book and began to dig deeper , then I realized that the book was about Micheles feelings shehad and was a part of her life that she ahd tp put on paper to free herself and just wanted the world to know the struggles of her life and just that a person can have alot of things that happen the family that have to get resolved. And with a little determination you can get to the bottom of alot of secrets and hear say, and that one doesnt just have to say i had alot go on that i can write a book but actually writes it.

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  • Posted February 13, 2013

    I though that this book was very well written. I really enjoyed

    I though that this book was very well written. I really enjoyed how Michele Norris was honest about the way people talked to her family. I though that her being so blunt about it made the book very  good. i
    And i also found it interesting how we learned some about Aunt Jemima. 

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 27, 2012

    Great Read

    Wonderfully written with a fresh look at a generation that truly would bear up under any circumstance and shelter the generation to come.

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