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More than sixty years ago, the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that America’s schools could no longer be segregated by race. Critically acclaimed novelist Jim Grimsley was eleven years old in 1966 when federally mandated integration of schools went into effect in the state and the school in his small eastern North Carolina town was first integrated. Until then, blacks and whites didn’t sit next to one another in a public space or eat in the same restaurants, and they certainly didn’t go to school together.

Going to one of the private schools that almost immediately sprang up was not an option for Jim: his family was too poor to pay tuition, and while they shared the community’s dismay over the mixing of the races, they had no choice but to be on the front lines of his school’s desegregation.

What he did not realize until he began to meet these new students was just how deeply ingrained his own prejudices were and how those prejudices had developed in him despite the fact that prior to starting sixth grade, he had actually never known any black people.

Now, more than forty years later, Grimsley looks back at that school and those times–remembering his own first real encounters with black children and their culture. The result is a narrative both true and deeply moving. Jim takes readers into those classrooms and onto the playing fields as, ever so tentatively, alliances were forged and friendships established. And looking back from today’s perspective, he examines how far we have really come.

Praise

“Grimsley impersonates his younger self with great skill and delicacy. His voice is finely calibrated to recreate a certain innocence and wonder at the grown-up world and its curious ways . . . He doesn’t pretend that simply sitting next to black classmates suddenly changed his way of looking at the world; he acknowledges that the process occurred over many years and much searching.” —New York Times Book Review

“Race has been at the forefront of the national conversation recently. On the news and at our dinner tables, the country is discussing how far we still have to go. How I Shed My Skin, by Jim Grimsley, is a white writer’s story of that journey — where we’ve come from and how we move forward.”—The Washington Post

“Grimsley says, ‘I was a good little racist’ . . . It’s the defining moment in Grimsley’s new memoir about desegregation, a day when he sensed that everything he’d been taught about black people was wrong.” —The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“Powerful . . . Grimsley’s brave self-examination of his own childhood prejudices makes this book personal; his struggle to reconcile and overcome those prejudices makes it universal and well worth reading.” —Birmingham Magazine

“Like Jim Auchmutey’s The Class of ’65, Grimsley’s eloquent, moving meditation is a welcome addition to our constant, ever-evolving conversation on race.” —Atlanta Magazine

Meet the author

Photo Credit: Susan Johann

Jim Grimsley is the author of four previous novels, among them Winter Birds, a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award; Dream Boy, winner of the GLBTF Book Award for literature; My Drowning, a Lila-Wallace-Reader’s Digest Writer’s Award winner; and Comfort and Joy. He lives in Atlanta and teaches at Emory University.