Friday, July 4, 2008

From My Reading Journal - Always Wear Joy

Always Wear Joy: My Mother Bold and Beautiful by Susan Fales-Hill

What a wonderful, delightful book! I came to it out of curiosity about Susan Fales-Hill. I had seen her picture often in the New York Times and in fashion magazines at various dinners and charity balls attended by socialites, and she was almost always be the only black person. So, I wondered who she was, came across a mention of this book somewhere, and got it.

She is the daughter of Josephine Premice, a black actress and performer whose name I remember from the black newspapers and magazines of my youth. Her father is a white man from a wealthy background. Fales-Hill belongs to what I would call black royalty because she grew up knowing many black and white celebrities - Belafonte, Diahann Carol, her mother’s best friend, Richard Burton, with whom her mother had an affair, Roscoe Lee Brown, Sammy Davis, Jr., Lena Horne, and on and on. She went to the Lyceè Française and spoke French with her mother, Italian with her nanny, and possibly Creole because her maternal grandparents were from Haiti. She grew up in a world where dressing well was taken for granted, and thus the ease with which she moves today in a world in which haute couture is taken for granted.

One of the key elements in liking a book is whether or not one likes the writer, or perhaps I should say, the voice in which the book is written. I absolutely adore the voice in Always Wear Joy. She is very funny but also sensitive and honest in talking about the negative qualities of her parents as well as her own.

“Mom, what do I put down on the school form where it says ‘Mother’s Occupation’ when you’re not acting in a show?” – Enrico Fales, age 8
“Tell your teacher, ‘My mother’s an unemployed legend.’” Josephine, age 41

“Your baby is beautiful. His father was white?” Roman woman to Josephine.
“I don’t remember.” Josephine to Roman woman.

“My mother’s packing motto has always been, ‘If you can’t decide, take it all.’”

“We had devoted countless hours of our lives as mother and daughter to pondering the eternal question. For us this was not, What is the meaning of life? but, What are we going to wear?”

The quotes do not do justice to all that is in this book, especially the descriptions of the racism encountered by black actors. Fales-Hill was a television writer for some years working on the Cosby Show, “A Different World,” and others. Her stories of the racism in television were infuriating.

This is a wonderful book. I enjoyed spending time in Susan Fales-Hill’s company.

© 2008 by Julius Lester

Even though the contest to use mundivagant in a sentence is over, I received a
wonderful sentence from Edi Campbell who teaches English in Taiwan:

"I live a mundivagant life based upon hopes and dreams with no concrete plans to steady my step."

I like that phrase " steady my step." There've been times my step needed steadying and I hadn't had anything to drink, either.

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