This selection of 21 essays by Kristie Robin Johnson is brilliant and evocative in its writing while being disturbing in the topics about which she writes. These essays are a memoir of growing up African-American in the deep South in recent years. Johnson still lives in Groveton, Georgia, a suburb of Augusta.
Johnson received a highly competitive offer to participate in the Creative Writing program at Georgia College and State University, where she received her MFA. She knew she wanted to write, and this program allowed her to hone those skills. However, she gave up a good job in order to follow this dream. She encountered racism in the program but finished it.
Several of the essays discuss her family–her mother, a drug addict who went through rehab programs several times but relapsed every time; her grandmother, who supported her in so many ways; her third great-grandmother Vinie, who had been a slave and who Kristie took as her guardian angel; her husband, who was many years older and from whom she is now divorced. In several other essays she writes about her sons. Her older son is on the autism spectrum and her worries for him are immense, though as he has grown older and is on better medications and therapy, she indicates that he is much better. Her younger son is a reader, something she encouraged by reading Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass with him and seeing the vistas which it opened.
The essay in which she recounts her experience of enrolling for food stamps and then her first time to use her EBT card are particularly poignant. While working on her degree, she realized the importance of working with and being in community with other African-American women; another essay discusses the importance of that community.
I am a better person for having read this selection of essays and for gaining understanding of a life so very different from my own–someone I will likely never meet but who has a lot to teach me. Kudos to Raised Voice Press for publishing this collection.