“The Grace of Silence is an insightful, elegant rendering of how the history of an American family illuminates the history of our country.” –Toni Morrison
“History at its best is about telling stories—stories about people who lived before, about events in the past that create the contours of the present. By studying the lives of others, we hope that we, the living, can learn from their struggles and triumphs. In the hands of a gifted storyteller, a memoir becomes more than a chronicle of the writer’s life. It becomes the history of a time and a place. So it is with this magnificent memoir—one of the most eloquent, moving and insightful memoirs I have ever read.” —Doris Kearns Goodwin
“Michele Norris takes us on a riveting personal journey from north to south and back again through the tangled landscape of race in America—and teaches anew about the pain and possibilities of our past and future.” —Tom Brokaw
“The Grace of Silence is a riveting, inspiring memoir of an at once singular and representative American family. From Minnesota to Alabama, Norris takes us on a painful yet triumphant journey of self-discovery. She relies on her formidable skills as an investigative reporter to unearth shocking family secrets kept from her by her father and mother when she was growing up. Feeling hurt and betrayed, she learns that their lack of forthrightness allowed her to rise in a country haunted by its racial past. Powerful and tender, The Grace of Silence reveals our human complexity in exemplary fashion.” —Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
“A revealing, affectionate and sometimes painful memoir which dispenses with stereotype to get to the heart of what makes a family.” —Gwen Ifill
“In this exquisite memoir, Michele Norris turns her formidable powers of interviewing and storytelling onto her toughest subjects: herself, her family, and this country’s scar tissue. What follows is a journey of discovery into some of the darkest corners and brightest stars of the greatest generation. The Grace of Silence is sometimes raw, often gripping, and always graceful. A remarkably moving and enriching experience.” —Richard Wolffe
“A soaring memoir that pays powerful tribute to the quiet and dignified heroes among us. Norris’ remarkable family, and her courageous journey to tell their story, creates an inspiring portrait of America that will stay with you forever. I loved this book. —Dave Isay, founder of StoryCorps
“The Grace of Silence is at once a piercing exploration of race in America, and a poignant evocation of one black family—its warmth, pride, silences and evasions. What makes the narrative even more gripping is that this is, in the most human sense, a detective story driven by Michele Norris’s determination to uncover and understand her own past. A wonderful book.” —Richard North Patterson
“The Grace of Silence is an extraordinary book — tragic, eloquent, funny, and profoundly moving. It is the tale of one woman’s journey of discovery, but it is also much more: it is America’s history.” — Stephen Carter
“In this eloquent and affecting memoir, Norris, co-host of NPR’s All Things Considered, examines both her family’s racial roots and secrets. Spurred on by Barack Obama’s campaign and a multipart NPR piece she spearheaded about race relations in America, Norris realized that she couldn’t fully understand how other people talked about race until she understood how her own family dealt with it, particularly with their silence regarding two key events. She intersperses memories of her Minneapolis childhood with the events that shaped her parents’ lives: her maternal grandmother’s short career as a traveling “Aunt Jemima,” which always embarrassed her mother, and her father’s shooting by a white policeman in Alabama in 1946. It is the shooting, which occurred soon after Belvin Norris Jr. was honorably discharged from the navy, that forms the narrative and emotional backbone of Norris’s story, as she travels to Birmingham to try and piece together what happened. Though the quest is a personal one, Norris poignantly illuminates the struggle of black veterans returning home and receiving nothing but condemnation for their service. The issue of race in America is the subject of an ongoing conversation, and Norris never shies away from asking the same difficult questions of herself that she asks of others because ‘all of us should be willing to remain at the table even when things get uncomfortable.’” —Publishers Weekly
“With learned candor, [Norris] describes the corrosive effect of family stories left untold, showing how the denial of painful histories can only contribute to the anger, unease and mistrust of “post-racial” America. We may not hear those stories until we ask for them. But some things simply must be said.” —Ms. Magazine
“Jaw-dropping. Can’t put down. Everyday All Things Considered cohost Michele Norris shines a light on personal victories and political atrocities here and abroad. Now the popular National Public Radio broadcaster tells us the truth about her own life. In a riveting new memoir, The Grace of Silence (Pantheon, $24.95), the former ABC News Correspondent uses her signature calm and steady voice to open up about her complicated relatives. Among the author’s revelations: Ione Brown, Norris’s elegant grandmother, crisscrossed the country as a real-life Aunt Jemima: “For years in the 1940’s and early 1950’s, she dressed up in a hoop skirt, apron and bandana while traveling to small midwestern towns touting Aunt Jemima pancake mix to farm wives.” While spearheading an NPR series on race, Norris discovered that Belvin, her father, was purposely shot and injured by White police officers in Alabama after he was honorably discharged from the military.
“Though Dad never told me or Mom, some of his brothers had apparently talked to their children about it. My first cousin had known for years. He heard about it from his father during a cautionary ‘never look a cop in the eye’ conversation that Black men have with their teenage sons.” —Essence Magazine
In her debut memoir, veteran journalist and All Things Considered co-host Norris deftly explores the “unprecedented, hidden and robust conversation about race” now taking place throughout the United States.
In the wake of Barack Obama’s election, the author found that middle-class black families were more willing to open “the window to [their] painful past.” Throughout her childhood, her family had resolutely encouraged her to achieve fulfillment by focusing on the future and ignoring racial slights. They didn’t discuss the civil-rights struggle or the humiliating reality of segregation, even though in 1961—the year of her birth—her family was one of the first black families to move into a previously all-white Minneapolis neighborhood. Following up a casual remark by her uncle, Norris discovered that her deceased father had been shot just two weeks after his discharge from the Navy, when he had been jailed on a false charge of robbery. Born and raised in Birmingham, Ala., he moved north shortly after the incident and never discussed it with his wife or children. The author was able to track down relatives of the friend and piece together what occurred, and she learned that her father was probably a participant in one of the marches led by returning veterans who refused to accept second-class citizenship. By exploring her father’s past, Norris uncovers the hidden origins of the civil-rights movement and how it still shapes the lives of Americans today. While giving homage to her beloved father, the author rejects the comforting myth that we currently live in a post-racial society. “Our continuing national conversation on race will no doubt proceed by fits and starts,” she writes. “But all of us should be willing to remain at the table even when things get uncomfortable. We need to be fearless while unburdening ourselves, even as we respect the same effort in others. There is often grace in silence. But there is always power in understanding.” —Kirkus, starred review.
“Lauded journalist Norris, cohost for All Things Considered on NPR, intended to write a book analyzing the changing conversation about race in the Obama era. But once she realized that even within her own family, discussions about race were “not completely honest,” she changed course. The result is an investigative family memoir of rare candor and artistry that dramatically reveals essential yet hidden aspects of African American life. A fifth-generation Minnesotan on her mother’s side, Norris was stunned to learn that her maternal grandmother worked for Quaker Oats as a traveling Aunt Jemima, a revelation that sparks a paramount interpretation of this loaded icon. The next shock was discovering that when her father returned to Birmingham, Alabama, after serving in WWII, he was shot by a white policeman. This painful secret inspires a commanding exposé of the “scandalous violence against black men who had fought for human rights abroad” only to be denied freedom at home. A balance-beam writer, Norris looks at both sides of every question while seeking truth’s razor-edge. But she is also a remarkably warm, witty, and spellbinding storyteller, enriching her illuminating family chronicle with profound understanding of the protective “grace of silence” and the powers unchained when, at last, all that has been unsaid is finally spoken.” —Booklist, starred review