My Soul Looks Back: A Memoir

My Soul Looks Back: A Memoir

by Jessica B. Harris


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In this captivating new memoir, award-winning writer Jessica B. Harris recalls her youth “surrounded by some of the most famous creative minds of the seventies and eighties…James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, Nina Simone” (New York magazine)—in a vibrant, lost era of New York City.

In the Technicolor glow of the early seventies, Jessica B. Harris debated, celebrated, and danced her way from the jazz clubs of the Manhattan’s West Side to the restaurants of Greenwich Village, living out her buoyant youth alongside the great minds of the day—luminaries like Maya Angelou, James Baldwin, and Toni Morrison. My Soul Looks Back is her tribute to that fascinating social circle and their shared commitment to activism, intellectual engagement, and each other.

With “simmering warmth” (The New York Times), Harris paints evocative portraits of her illustrious friends: Baldwin as he read aloud an early draft of If Beale Street Could Talk, Angelou cooking in her California kitchen, and Morrison relaxing at Baldwin’s house in Provence. Harris describes her role as theater critic for the New York Amsterdam News and editor at then-burgeoning Essence magazine; star-studded parties in the South of France; drinks at Mikell’s, a hip West Side club; and the simple joy these extraordinary people took in each other’s company. At the center is Harris’s relationship with Sam Floyd, a fellow professor at Queens College, who introduced her to Baldwin.

More than a memoir of friendship and first love, My Soul Looks Back is a carefully crafted, intimately understood homage to a bygone era and the people that made it so remarkable.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781501125928
Publisher: Scribner
Publication date: 05/15/2018
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 248,431
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Jessica B. Harris holds a PhD from NYU, teaches English at Queens College, and lectures internationally. The author of the memoir My Soul Looks Back as well as twelve cookbooks, her articles have appeared in Vogue, Food & Wine, Essence, and The New Yorker, among other publications; she has made numerous television and radio appearances and has been profiled in The New York Times. Considered one of the preeminent scholars of the food of the African Diaspora, Harris has been inducted into the James Beard Who’s Who in Food and Beverage in America, received an honorary doctorate from Johnson & Wales University and recently helped the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture to conceptualize its cafeteria.

Read an Excerpt

My Soul Looks Back
Caldo Gallego—Galician White Bean Soup

I first tasted caldo gallego on a trip to Santiago de Compostela more years ago than I want to count. It was love at first slurp: the combination of the slightly spicy chorizo sausage, the bland starch of the potato, and the tang of the greens was perfectly suited to that northern Spanish town where they boast they have made rainfall an art form. I was thrilled to discover it on the menu at El Faro, where many chowed down on shrimp in green sauce and other shellfishy delights. It rapidly became my go-to order: comfort in a bowl. Even today, one spoonful takes me time-traveling back to the scarred wooden booths in the restaurant’s back room and reminds me of my youth.

– Serves six –

1 ham hock (about 1/2 pound)

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium yellow onion, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices

1/4 pound chorizo, cut into 1/4-inch-thick rounds

3/4 pound Yukon Gold potatoes (about 2 medium), peeled and cut into 3/4-inch-thick cubes

2 cups small white turnips, roughly chopped

2 cans cannellini beans and their liquid

4 cups chopped kale

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Prepare the ham hock by cooking it in water to cover for 2 hours. Reserve the cooking liquid and add enough water to make 10 cups.

In a large, heavy saucepot over medium-high heat, heat the oil. Add the onions and chorizo and cook until the onions soften and the chorizo starts to brown, about five minutes.

Add the ham hock and liquid, the potatoes, and the turnips. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer, stirring occasionally, skimming off and discarding any foam that rises to the surface, until the ham, potatoes, and turnips soften, about 11/2 hours.

Add the beans and the kale and cook until the greens are tender, about 20 minutes.

Remove the ham hock. Pull the meat off the bone and discard the bone. Stir the meat into the pot. Adjust seasonings and serve.

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