The Grace of Silence

A Memoir

By Michele Norris
(Pantheon Books, Hardcover, 9780307378767, 208pp.)

Publication Date: September 21, 2010

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In the wake of talk of a “postracial” America upon Barack Obama’s ascension as president of the United States, Michele Norris, cohost of National Public Radio’s flagship program All Things Considered, set out to write, through original reporting, a book about “the hidden conversation” on race that is unfolding nationwide. She would, she thought, base her book on the frank disclosures of others on the subject, but she was soon disabused of her presumption when forced to confront the fact that “the conversation” in her own family had not been forthright.
Norris unearthed painful family secrets that compelled her to question her own self-understanding: from her father’s shooting by a Birmingham police officer weeks after his discharge from the navy at the conclusion of World War II to her maternal grandmother’s peddling pancake mix as an itinerant Aunt Jemima to white farm women in the Midwest. In what became a profoundly personal and bracing journey into her family’s past, Norris traveled from her childhood home in Minneapolis to her ancestral roots in the Deep South to explore the reasons for the “things left unsaid” by her father and mother when she was growing up, the better to come to terms with her own identity. Along the way she discovered how her character was forged by both revelation and silence.
Extraordinary for Norris’s candor in examining her own racial legacy and what it means to be an American, The Grace of Silence is also informed by rigorous research in its evocation of time and place, scores of interviews with ordinary folk, and wise observations about evolving attitudes, at once encouraging and disturbing, toward race in America today. For its particularity and universality, it is powerfully moving, a tour de force.

About the Author
MICHELE NORRIS, an award-winning journalist with more than two decades of experience, co-hosts NPR's newsmagazine "All Things Considered". Before coming to NPR, Norris was a correspondent for ABC News. Norris is a multiple Pulitzer-nominee and, in addition to other honors, shares an Emmy and a Peabody with ABC News colleagues for her contribution to their 9/11 coverage.

Monday, Sep 27, 2010

When Michele Norris set out to write a book about race in America, she uncovered a family secret: her father had been shot by a white police officer in Jim Crow-era Alabama. Norris and Jim Baggett, the archivist who helped Norris unlock her family's difficult past, discuss Norris' memoir, The Grace Of Silence. More at

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Monday, Sep 20, 2010

As a girl, Michele Norris admired her father, a postal worker with a love of Orson Welles. It wasn't until later that she learned about the challenges he faced-- and kept from her. In her new memoir, The Grace Of Silence, she reflects on learning her family's hidden stories. More at

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