Talking at Trena's: Everyday Conversations at an African American Tavern

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On Chicago's South Side, in the heart of a middle-class African American neighborhood, men gather after work to talk about their day, and their lives. The setting is Trena's, a popular, local watering hole where the conversation quickly turns to the hot topics of the day; race, the workplace, social class, sex, the media, and family. In this setting these men relax, open up and reveal themselves to the staff and their fellow patrons with remarkable frankness.

Following in the tradition of Elijah Anderson's -A Place on the Corner- and Mitchell Duneier's -Slim's Table-, Talking at Trena's reveals, how these men whose economic and social status is precarious understand the racial dynamics of American society. We learn about how they handle the racism and class bias that impacts their jobs, their social interactions with peers, and their relationships with loved ones. Their conversations frequently turn to television and how blacks and whites are represented, how it deals with men and women and how it shapes their perception of life. Talking at Trena's provides a window into the laughs, complaints, and experiences, which Trena's regulars share and their strategies for managing daily life outside the safety and comfort of the tavern.

Author Biography: Reuben A. Buford May is Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Georgia.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
In a scholarly yet highly readable book, May (sociology, Univ. of Georgia) depicts the safe haven of Trena's, a tavern on the South Side of Chicago where African American men gather on a daily basis and it's clearly not just for a drink. Their camaraderie (closely observed by the author himself, who became one of the "regulars" during the 1990s) is reflected in conversations, often literally transcribed, about everyday life. By turn sad, hilarious, shocking, and touching, these conversations are always revealing: May makes good use of them in suggesting what they tell us about how these men experience, for example, racism and class bias and how they behave in various social contexts. May is rigorous in describing his methodology, but readers might be surprised that neither his narrative overview of related literature nor his bibliography includes mention of Elliot Liebow's classic Talley's Corner: A Study of Negro Streetcorner Men (LJ 6/15/67. o.p.), of which this book is very reminiscent. Recommended for public and academic libraries. Ellen D. Gilbert, Rutgers Univ. Lib., New Brunswick, NJ Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
By turn sad, hilarious, shocking, and touching, these conversations are always revealing: May makes good use of them in suggesting what they tell us about how these men experience, for example, racism and class bias and how they behave in various social contexts.
From the Publisher
"By turn sad, hilarious, shocking, and touching, these conversations are always revealing: May makes good use of them in suggesting what they tell us about how these men experience, for example, racism and class bias and ho they behave in various social contexts."

-Library Journal

"An engaging text. May shows why a space like Trena's is essential and why people become regulars.”

-The Southern Communication Journal

"A tour de force. Readers who begin this engaging and well-written book will find it hard to put down. May captures the subtle aspects of race in the everyday life of African Americans with original insights into informal social interactions in a segregated setting, and the implications of affirming racial identity in a multiracial society."

-William Julius Wilson,Lewis P. and Linda L. Geyser University Professor, Harvard University

"As we come to know the participants of this African American tavern, we see the world from their perspective, making us a little more humane and wise in the process. Reuben May, with his quick ears and careful eyes, has performed a valuable service."

-Gary Alan Fine,Professor of Sociology, Northwestern University

"Like Du Bois, Drake and Cayton, Liebow, and Anderson before him, Reuben May has written a key text for understanding the segregated urban spaces of the U.S. Talking at Trena's is an intimate look at racial identity and racial conflict, hegemonic masculinity, homophobia, and the reception of television culture in black communities. It is an important extension of the urban ethnographic tradition that will be widely read for many years to come."

-Mitchell Duneier,author of Sidewalk and Slim's Table

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780814756713
  • Publisher: New York University Press
  • Publication date: 8/1/2001
  • Pages: 200
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 8.38 (h) x 0.76 (d)

Meet the Author

Reuben A. Buford May is Professor of Sociology at Texas A & M University. He is the author of Talking at Trena’s: Everyday Conversations at an African American Tavern (NYU Press, 2001).

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 6, 2002

    What a coming out party!!

    This is a seriously funny look at the way black men and women fellowship at a local tavern. The realness, the explicitness, and out right comedy of everyday happenings, coupled with the insight as to why people are the way they are-- as seen through the eyes of everyday African-Americans is truly a conversation for all to hear. I felt like I was on the stools of the local bar on the south side of Chicago--I hope to see more from this outstanding, accomplished author very soon.

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