November 12, 2020

Jerald Walker and Robert Atwan

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.


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 Author(s)

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 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.