“Fire Shut Up in My Bones: A Memoir” by Charles M. Blow— Dealing with the Past, Living in the Present

fire shut up in my bones

Blow, Charles M. “Fire Shut Up in My Bones”, Mariner Books, 2015.

Dealing with the Past, Living in the Present

Amos Lassen

One of the things that I have noticed in writings by black men is the way they deal with homosexuality but now we have a gorgeous memoir of a man who does just hat. Charles M. Blow is one of our most respected journalists and he shares with us how he dealt with his past so that he can live well in the present. He tells us in beautiful prose about having to deal with so many major issues— race, gender, class and sexuality not just in the American South and our nation as a whole.

Blow brings us a beautifully written coming of age story with an inspiring and uplifting ending of self-acceptance. We see the world through the eyes of an African-American who was raised in the segregated southern United States. He was the youngest child of a strong and proud mother and a progressive father. His extended family was unique and populated with individuals for whom stereotypes do not fit and neither do expectations. What I find so interesting is that this is not a beautiful story but it is told in beautiful prose. Alongside of sweet moments are tragic ones and the descriptions are so vivid it is as if we are there. Being from the South myself, I found so much to indentify with. We see the characters and even feel as if they are speaking right to us. This is a story of redemption and triumph but only after arduous suffering and pain.

I have always had trouble trying to find an accurate definition for the word “man”. Is it gender or a role to be played as expected by society? Perhaps it is a commitment of some kind. Then I read this story of a young man growing up in rural Louisiana and how he finds his way even with the poverty and abuse that he suffered and shook his beliefs. Here is someone who feels his difference and tries to overcome before he can deal with it. He tells us that he has spent his whole life trying to fit in but then it took the rest of his life to realize that some men are not like others and are meant to stand out from the rest. While the book deals with Blow’s sexuality it is really about finding out what is a man in a place where the rules that had been written and accepted don’t include the “strength that comes from divergence.” Here is a courageous story of an honest man who stops running and realizes who he is.

By reading this we better understand poverty, the south, racism, sex, fear, rage, and love. Here is a guy from a small town who grew up in extreme poverty in the segregationist Deep South and then became a columnist at The New York Times. He suffered through racism and poverty and we read where he took on sexuality, religion and social hierarchy in the African-American community and in doing so has revealed his inner soul and yet he became one “America’s most intriguing public intellectuals.” His story is self-critical and he says things that we cannot ignore and this is a story that few men and even fewer Black men can tell. Blow’s brilliant and self-critical narrative contains truths which no American can afford to ignore, and which few black men have dared to tell.

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