Harlem is Nowhere: A Journey to the Mecca of Black America, by Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts

Harlem is Nowhere: A Journey to the Mecca of Black America, by Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts

Read this review at Publishers Weekly

Harlem is Nowhere: A Journey to the Mecca of Black America

Harlem is Nowhere: A Journey to the Mecca of Black America Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts, Little, Brown, $24.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-316-01723-7

Rhodes-Pitts, an essayist and recipient of the Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer’s Award, takes as her title a 1948 essay wherein Ralph Ellison describes “nowhere” as the crossroads where personal reality meets the metaphorical meanings attached to people and places. A transplant to Harlem from Texas, Rhodes-Pitts began a personal journey into the iconic neighborhood, poring over Harlem in literature and life, reading its empty lots and street scenes, its billboards and memorials for clues to what it means to inhabit a dream (that fabled sanctuary for Black Americans) and a real place (the all too material neighborhood buckling beneath relentless gentrification). Acutely conscious of the writer’s simultaneous role of participant in and recorder of present and past, Rhodes-Pitts weaves a glittering living tapestry of snatches of overheard conversation, sidewalk chalk scribbles, want ads, unspoken social codes, literary analysis, studies of black slang–all if it held together with assurance and erudition. Like Zora Neale Hurston (whose contradictions she nails), she is “tour-guide and interpreter” of a Mecca cherished and feared, a place enduring and threatened that becomes home.

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