Thursday, March 10, 2016

Friends Writing Good Books: Chervis Isom


Chervis Isom
(Photo from author's website)
I met Chervis Isom one summer a few years back at the Alabama Writers' Conclave. We struck up a friendship and had some nice discussions in between conference sessions. Since that time we have met periodically for lively discussions about writing, living in the South, and life in general. His book, The Newspaper Boy, came out in 2014, and I wrote a review in July of that year. It is a story about “Coming of age in Birmingham, Alabama during the civil rights era.”  I found the book to be engaging, informative, and instructive on many levels.

I mentioned in my review that  "I learned important details about how local government was structured, and how speeches by a rabble-rousing Ace Carter of the White Citizens Council revved up the populace in an attempt to preserve segregation." In fact, when Donald Trump was first gaining momentum in the presidential race, I immediately saw some similarities between his campaign and Ace Carter's demagoguery in Birmingham during the 1950s. I contacted Cheris for his input and observations on today's political climate and wrote about that in another blog post earlier this year.

Here is the review I shared in July of 2014:

 

The Newspaper Boy: A Memoir that Looks into the Heart of a City 

 

I just finished reading a very important book. The Newspaper Boy, by Chervis Isom, is a well-written and entertaining memoir, subtitled, “Coming of age in Birmingham, Alabama during the civil rights era.” I first met Chervis a few years ago at the Alabama Writers’ Conclave and have always enjoyed my conversations with him. When news of his book came out, I was eager to get a copy.

The Newspaper Boy is fascinating on several different levels. It is delightful and engaging as a story about a boy growing up in a working class family, going to school, discovering girls, and getting his first job delivering papers. It is also an important first-hand account of an historical time in the city of Birmingham. I have written before on this blog about civil rights and growing up in the Deep South under the apartheid of racial segregation, but in reading Chervis Isom’s memoir, I gained a much clearer picture of what was happening in Birmingham during those days leading up to the civil rights movement. I learned important details about how local government was structured, and how speeches by a rabble-rousing Ace Carter of the White Citizens Council revved up the populace in an attempt to preserve segregation. I also learned about the important work of some open-minded civic leaders such as David Vann and Abraham Berkowitz.

It was inspiring for me to read about how an ordinary young fellow growing up in a society steeped in racism began to question a way of life that had once been accepted without question. It is a story about being able to listen to another point of view and thereby beginning a slow process of change. It is a story about how a liberal arts education can propel a young college student to approach life with a much broader view. It is a story about quietly finding liberation from the shackles of cultural ignorance.

For more information about this important book, you can visit the author’s website for The Newspaper Boy at http://www.thenewspaperboy.net . To read a very fine interview with the author in Weld, go here. For another review of the book, go here. The Newspaper Boy is a thoughtful reflection of a life lived during times of change. It is also a book that is important for our time as we face new hopes and challenges for building a city that works for the benefit of all.


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