Virtual Event: Jerald Walker and Robert Atwan


How to Make a Slave and Other Essays


The Best American Essays 2020


November 12, 2020
7:00 PM ET


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Harvard Book Store's virtual event series welcomes acclaimed writer JERALD WALKER and the Best American Essays series editor ROBERT ATWAN for a discussion of their latest books, How to Make a Slave and Other Essays—recently shortlisted for the National Book Award for Nonfiction—and The Best American Essays 2020.

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About How to Make a Slave and Other Essays

For the black community, Jerald Walker asserts in How to Make a Slave, “anger is often a prelude to a joke, as there is broad understanding that the triumph over this destructive emotion lay in finding its punchline.”

It is on the knife’s edge between fury and farce that the essays in this exquisite collection balance. Whether confronting the medical profession’s racial biases, considering the complicated legacy of Michael Jackson, paying homage to his writing mentor James Alan McPherson, or attempting to break free of personal and societal stereotypes, Walker elegantly blends personal revelation and cultural critique. The result is a bracing and often humorous examination by one of America’s most acclaimed essayists of what it is to grow, parent, write, and exist as a black American male. Walker refuses to lull his readers; instead his missives urge them to do better as they consider, through his eyes, how to be a good citizen, how to be a good father, how to live, and how to love.

About The Best American Essays 2020

A collection of the year’s best essays selected by André Aciman, author of the worldwide bestseller Call Me by Your Name.

“An essay is the child of uncertainty,” André Aciman contends in his introduction to The Best American Essays 2020. “The struggle to write what one hopes is entirely true, and the long incubation every piece of writing requires of a writer who is thinking difficult thoughts, are what ultimately give the writing its depth, its magnitude, its grace.” The essays Aciman selected center on people facing moments of deep uncertainty, searching for a greater truth. From a Black father’s confrontation of his son’s illness, to a divorcée’s transcendent experience with strangers, to a bartender grieving the tragic loss of a friend, these stories are a master class not just in essay writing but in empathy, artfully imbuing moments of hardship with understanding and that elusive grace.

The Best American 2020 Essays includes Rabih Alameddine, Barbara Ehrenreich, Leslie Jamison, Jamaica Kinkaid, Alex Marzano-Lesnevich, A.O. Scott, Jerald Walker, Stephanie Powell Watts, and others.

Praise for How to Make a Slave and Other Essays

“This piercing and restless collection slices through this country’s agitated racial landscape with the tenacity of a thunderbolt. Walker manages to be all of us—we are all the college English department’s pet token, we are all the potential Whole Foods crime wave, we are all the Negro middle American agonizing over a return trip to the implosive inner city from whence we came. These fresh, revelatory snippets of black life deserve a rollicking collective Amen! and an audience of both the converted and the curious.” —Patricia Smith, author of Incendiary Art

“If there is a book you need to read as our country is about to devour itself, it is How to Make a Slave. Walker’s sharp voice cuts through the social malaise of our culture, delivering intimate moments of his life—from a boy in South Chicago to a young student writer trying to find voice amid a myriad of black stereotypes to a father raising two boys in a divided country. These essays enlighten us through depth and complexity of thought and the veracity of experience.” —Ira Sukrungruang, author of Buddha’s Dog and Other Meditations

“I’ve been waiting for this, the first collection of essays by one of our best essayists, for years. Jerald Walker’s How to Make a Slave is notable for its persistence of vision. These essays are relentlessly humane even as they stare into America’s split, racist heart. And like America and Americans, this book is both funny and fucked up, and neither can exist without the other.” —Ander Monson, author of I Will Take the Answer

Jerald Walker
Jerald Walker

Jerald Walker

Jerald Walker is an associate professor of creative writing at Emerson College. He is the author of Street Shadows: A Memoir of Race, Rebellion, and Redemption, which won the 2011 PEN New England/L. L. Winship Award for Nonfiction and was named a “Best Memoir of the Year” by Kirkus Reviews.

Robert Atwan
Robert Atwan

Robert Atwan

Robert Atwan has been the series editor of The Best American Essays since its inception in 1986. He has edited numerous literary anthologies and written essays and reviews for periodicals nationwide.

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Event Series: Virtual Event Series

Harvard Book Store’s award-winning event series continues online! Named "Best of Boston: 2020 Best Virtual Author Series" and "2021 Best Virtual Author Series" by Boston magazine.

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