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Coloured People: A Memoir Paperback – 30 Apr 1995

5.0 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 216 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Books; 1st Vintage Books Ed edition (30 April 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 067973919X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679739197
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 1.5 x 20.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,560,928 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

" Affecting, beautifully written and morally complex...The heart of the memoir is Gates' portrait of his family, and its placement in a black society whose strength, richness and self-confidence thrived in the darkness of segregation." --Richard Eder, The Los Angeles Times
" [Colored People] may well become a classic of American memoir." --The Boston Globe

"Affecting, beautifully written and morally complex...The heart of the memoir is Gates' portrait of his family, and its placement in a black society whose strength, richness and self-confidence thrived in the darkness of segregation."--Richard Eder, The Los Angeles Times
"[Colored People] may well become a classic of American memoir."--The Boston Globe

About the Author

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (Ph.D.Cambridge), is Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and Director of the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and American Research, Harvard University. He is the author of Life Upon These Shores: Looking at African American History, 1513 2008; Black in Latin America; Tradition and the Black Atlantic: Critical Theory in the African Diaspora; Faces of America; Figures in Black: Words, Signs, and the Racial Self; The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of Afro-American Criticism; Loose Canons: Notes on the Culture Wars; Colored People: A Memoir; The Future of Race with Cornel West; Wonders of the African World; Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Man; and The Trials of Phillis Wheatley. His is also the writer, producer, and narrator of PBS documentaries Finding Your Roots; Black in Latin America; Faces of America; African American Lives 1 and 2; Looking for Lincoln; America Beyond the Color Line; and Wonders of the African World. He is the editor of African American National Biography with Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, and The Dictionary of African Biography with Anthony Appiah; Encyclopedia Africana with Anthony Appiah; and The Bondwoman s Narrative by Hannah Crafts, as well as editor-in-chief of TheRoot.com.

Customer Reviews

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This was such an interesting story of a black family in 1950s/60s Virginia USA. Some parts very droll and some bits sad. How things have changed since this man was young, but on the whole he lived in a Southern State that wasn't as overt as the Deep south in their prejudice. The two communities just kept part from each other. No burning crosses or KKK.
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Format: Hardcover
So removed from my own experience but a story told with such grace, it will always be one of my favorite books. I read it when it was published some time ago and have not forgotten the real sense of place and people. As a white female wasp from New England, I'm not sure I understand why it affected me so. Lost communities that we gave up in the name of something else. On the one hand, it made me think there will always be a separateness and, on the other hand, that we all want the kind of community and gentle exchange that seemed at the heart of the people in this book. The use of the language is admirable - the writing - but it was what I took away about my own very different life that made the book memorable. It's a scholarly work in its way but simple, clear and classic.
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By A Customer on 16 April 1999
Format: Paperback
This memoir had me laughing throughout, but it was also though provoking. The descriptions were so vivid, you believed you are right there in that little town witnessing Mr. Gates live and the lives of his family. I gave the book to my mother and she loved it also. Coming from a small town in Arkansas, there were alot of similarites. This book was a departure from his normal intellectual writings but no less educational.
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By A Customer on 10 Oct. 1997
Format: Paperback
Mr. Gates invites readers into his world with a very detailed and rich account of his early childhood and the journey he took to become one of the most influential intellectuals of our generation.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x8e1c8a74) out of 5 stars 127 reviews
22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8e1fa60c) out of 5 stars Warm and funny and haunting and serious. 26 May 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
So removed from my own experience but a story told with such grace, it will always be one of my favorite books. I read it when it was published some time ago and have not forgotten the real sense of place and people. As a white female wasp from New England, I'm not sure I understand why it affected me so. Lost communities that we gave up in the name of something else. On the one hand, it made me think there will always be a separateness and, on the other hand, that we all want the kind of community and gentle exchange that seemed at the heart of the people in this book. The use of the language is admirable - the writing - but it was what I took away about my own very different life that made the book memorable. It's a scholarly work in its way but simple, clear and classic.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8e1faa74) out of 5 stars A Gone Community 9 July 2000
By James Carragher - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Personally, I had a heckuva time keeping track of all the various Gates and Coleman relatives, so I gave up after the first forty pages or so and just appreciated this memoir for what it is -- the story of a community that no longer exists but will be alive for generations through Gates' evocation of it for his children and, vicariously, the readers of this book. As a white age contemporary of Gates, I was impressed by the evenhandedness with which he tells the story of the often grudging desegregation of the late 50s and 60s in West Virginia, and surprised by the extent of black/white interaction -- sometimes positive for Gates -- in this small town, even in the days of segregation. That is obviously a function of small town life, but it struck me as more than in many parts of US life today, leading to the question I wondered about throughout this book -- whether 46 years after Brown vs. Board of Education we are more, not less, isolated by color in our social interactions in the United States. If so, that's a tragedy for all of us.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8e1faa98) out of 5 stars Excellent memoir - a necessary read! 7 Nov. 2005
By Rhonda S. White - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is an extraordinary scholar, particularly on African-American issues. He was born and raised in Piedmont, West Virginia during the time of early racial desegregation and, as a black man, was directly influenced by this dramatically historical period. Gates graduated summa cum laude from Yale University with a degree in history, then received a Ph.D. in English from Cambridge.

He has written for The New Yorker, The Village Voice, Time, The New Republic, and other prominent magazines. In addition to Colored People: A Memoir, Gates has authored and co-authored several books including Figures in Black: Works, Signs, and the "Racial" Self (1987), The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of Afro-American Literary Criticism (1988), and Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Man (1997).

The preface to Colored People is a letter from Gates to his daughters, Maggie and Liza and, though the book is dedicated to his father Henry Louis Gates, Sr. and in memory of his mother Pauline Augusta Coleman Gates, the entire autobiography is written in conversational tone, as if Gates were recounting his stories not only to his daughters, but to their entire generation.

Gates' collection of memories describes the era, long since past (both for good and for bad) when blacks and whites were segregated, and the subsequent integration of these colors, and what it was like to live in that world, and be a part of it's evolution. The title Colored People is beautifully appropriate, not only for the shades of black America it represents, but for each and every one of us; black, white, red, yellow: none of us are see-through.

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. invites us to live with him in Piedmont, West Virginia, and experience life-black life-through his eyes. We walk through his town, invade his cultural rituals as a welcome guest, experience the love of family and community with him, and suffer the pain and frustration of segregation alongside him. I felt privileged to walk with Gates into segregated, comfortable, welcoming, "safe" black cultural spaces I could never enter otherwise: a black funeral, a black church, a black barbershop, a black family reunion. In contrast, I felt anger and pain at being judged, criticized, and belittled because of skin color.

Gates emphasizes to his readers, through his personal life experiences, the fact that color is only an outside condition that changes with the sunshine. He allows us to see that we are all human beings first, experiencing the same emotions, passions and ambitions as the man next to us, regardless of his color.

He doesn't discount white racism though, nor try to "Uncle Tom" it into something to be scoffed at as negligible. He allows us to know what West Virginia was like in the 1950's through the eyes of a young black man. We feel his warm acceptance when he falls for the affections of a white girl, and when he is recognized for superior intellect among his peers, many of whom are white. We share in the camaraderie he feels when he plays ball with his white friends. But then we are appalled when he is forced to leave the company of their table in a restaurant and stand at the counter, because of his skin color. We get angry because those same white friends don't stick up for him when he is forcibly thrown from a dance club, simply because he is black.

Through both the segregation and integration, Gates shares with us what he finds to be of greatest value in his life; that being the love of his family. His memoir is somewhat biographical in this sense, in that the lives of his maternal family, the Colemans, and his paternal family, the Gateses, are shared with us in detail. We learn how Henry Louis Gates, Jr. found the support and strength to become the intellectual force he is today. Through the lives of his family members, we see yet another generation of segregated black America. We learn what it is like to be "kept down" in a dead-end mill job, to be forced to drink from a separate water fountain, to be drawn into a box and dared to cross its lines.

Through the Colemans and the Gateses we experience the freedom of integration, but also the fear and uncertainty of leaving behind a safe and comfortable life we have come to accept, if not love. There is fear and discomfort in change, and we dread its revolution, even as we feel its excitement, through Gates' memories.

Gates' optimistic personality shines throughout his book. It's refreshing to me that, despite his formidable education and vast first-hand knowledge of racism, segregation and integration, his autobiography is not written in lofty, scholarly terminology, but in an easy, relaxed manner that informs, educates and leaves the reader with the impression of having enjoyed a talk with a good friend.

Colored People: A Memoir is a text which, in my opinion, should be a part of every student's university curriculum. Gates' underlying message, that freedom should never be taken for granted, is one that should be ingrained in every American citizen, regardless of color or creed. His personal memoirs, one West Virginia man's record of an era, offer a candid glimpse into the trails of integration few of us today, thankfully, will ever experience. This book is not to be missed by anyone who cares about history, about race, and about multicultural America as we now know it and how it came to be.

Rhonda Browning White
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8e1fadbc) out of 5 stars Funny, yet thougt provoking! 16 April 1999
By Dera R Williams - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This memoir had me laughing throughout, but it was also though provoking. The descriptions were so vivid, you believed you are right there in that little town witnessing Mr. Gates live and the lives of his family. I gave the book to my mother and she loved it also. Coming from a small town in Arkansas, there were alot of similarites. This book was a departure from his normal intellectual writings but no less educational.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8e1faee8) out of 5 stars Being Henry Louis Gates Jr. 10 Jun. 2000
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This is a great book. No doubt about it. For those who only know Skip Gates from his combatative role in the PBS "Wonders of Africa" series, this book will be a revelation. As a memoir of a young man growing up Black in the segregated south, there are some wonderful epiphanies for people who did not have that experience. As a peice of literary writing, it's a wonderful example of craft and spirit and talent.
I don't always agree with the way in which Prof. Gates places himself in the politics of academia or the pronouncements he sometimes makes about being of color in these United States, but he sure tells a good story. Through sharing his early years, some of the complexities of the man are made understandable. I leave it to others to decide exactly what that means.
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