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

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£14.99
Paperback 304 Pages
Published: 04/08/2011

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A walker, a reader and a gazer, Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts is also a skilled talker whose impromptu kerbside exchanges with Harlem's most colourful residents are transmuted into a slippery, silky set of observations on what change and opportunity have wrought in this small corner of a big city, Harlem, with its outsize reputation and even-larger influence. Hers is a beguilingly well-written meditation on the essence of black Harlem, as it teeters on the brink of seeing its poorer residents and their rich histories turfed out by commercial developers intent on providing swish condos for cool-seeking (and mostly white) gentrifiers. In a mix of conversations with scholars and streetcorner men, thoughtful musings on notable antecedents and illustrious Harlemites of the twentieth century, and her own story of migration (from Texas to Harlem via Harvard), Rhodes-Pitts exhibits a sensitivity and subtlety in her writing that is very impressive and very promising. There are echoes of Joan Didion's distinctive rhythms in her prose. This is an exceptionally striking and alluring debut.

Publisher: Granta Books
ISBN: 9781847084576
Number of pages: 304
Weight: 357 g
Dimensions: 210 x 149 x 23 mm


MEDIA REVIEWS

This is a lovely, beguiling book about the romance-and dangers-of bibliophily, [its] narrator in pursuit of a love object. This object turns out not to be Harlem itself as much as the library within it... Like Virginia Woolf, Rhodes-Pitts is bookish and devoted, interested in everyday matters. No geographic or racial qualifications guarantees a writer her subject. Only interest, knowledge and love will do that-all of which this book displays in abundance. - Zadie Smith, Harper's

It was Saul Bellow who invented the term "noticer" to denote someone who looks and sees, stands back and takes note. In this, her first book, Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts marks herself out as a first-rate noticer with the gift of being able to allow us to notice things exactly when she does. Her lyrical prose flows like the human gaze... Rhodes-Pitts arrived in Harlem to take up a job researching the photos of James Van Der Zee, that great chronicler of Harlem life in the 1920s. Her word portraits resemble Van Der Zee's work: warm, often beautiful, but with the distance of the observer composing the shot ... A great introduction to a rich and complex community, as much a state of being as a place on the map - Bonnie Greer, Financial Times

Another highly recommended Super Thursday non-fiction title is Harlem is Nowhere: A Journey to the Mecca of Black America, by the Texan Harvard graduate Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts, whose debut publication has already seen her compared to Joan Didion - Independent on Sunday

In an inspiring mix of historiography and psychogeography, just as gentrification begins to eat at the heart and soul of Harlem and erode the myths and meanings of Harlem, Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts discovers new ways of telling old things in a highly distinctive documentary style - Iain Finlayson, The Times

A lyrical and subtle debut, an illuminating insight into her time as a resident and unofficial chronicler of contemporary Harlem. It is a place to which she gains access by learning to interpret subtle gestures, listening for unlikely messages, and claiming the mantle of witness, with all its inherent responsibilities and risks ... Like Joan Didion, one of her unnamed but palpably felt literary parent-figures, Rhodes-Pitts has perfected the art of listening, removing herself as an obstacle to a number of candid histories - stories that don't exactly add up to newsworthy events, but which serve as markers of the day-to-day happenings from which public history emerges ... Harlem is Nowhere is a portrait of a place, and a quiet indictment of the forces acting within and upon that place. It is an attempt to parse both the mythology Harlem has spawned and the lives - including her own - being lived in that mythology's stark shadow. - Tracy Smith, Observer

The book, like many of the figures who roam within it, is an allusive, elusive creature - not quite memoir, fragmented social history, partial documentary. Its commitment to the tentative, its scepticism towards totalising visions, is evident in every beautifully written page. Avoiding tour guides, Rhodes-Pitts is happiest when she's walking around or listening to traffic in her small, lamentably furnished apartment, evoking the neighbourhood through bricolage and delicately diaristic prose. Her voice is closer to Walter Benjamin than it is to the rappers, preachers and street-signifying home boys who have defined its aural identity in recent times - Sukhdev Sandhu, Guardian

A beautiful account of Harlem that tells us as much about the author, her life, her tastes, her politics, and her unique sensibility as it does about this extraordinary part of Manhattan. Harlem Is Nowhere is much more than a work of urban history; it is a work of literature. - Ian Buruma

In this beautiful and inventive book, Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts finds - in a stray photograph, the corridors of a library, a wax museum, or a sidewalk chalk tract - pathways that lead us through and around another Harlem, interior to the ones we have known, and unforgettable. Written in the visionary documentary tradition of James Agee, Walter Benjamin, and Ralph Ellison, Harlem Is Nowhere is a work of great imagination and quiet splendor. - Rachel Cohen author of A Chance Meeting

The strength of this book is in the beauty of its language and the intelligence of its juxtapositions. Rhodes-Pitts's startlingly lovely descriptions capture Harlem past and present, and focus on lesser known figures, people who might be lost or overlooked in a different kind of work. - Danielle Evans, Boston Globe

Harlem Is Nowhere is a ghost story, whispering to the world that the Harlem of its dreams is going, going, gone and the Harlem that's now here (as opposed to "nowhere") will likely soon follow. Catch it while you can. - Laura Miller, salon.com

Ms. Rhodes-Pitts's is a voice you'll want to hear again, to recapture the scratchy buzz she's put into your head. Her book's alive, intoxicating. - New York Times

Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts has written a very striking meditation on Harlem as a place and a symbol, and at a time when Harlem is changing profoundly. She is a brilliant addition to the literature on Harlem that reaches back to James Baldwin and Ralph Ellison, to Langston Hughes and James Weldon Johnson. But hers is most definitely a fresh, new voice. There is a certain graceful cool, an unfailing aptness of tone, in her writing. Harlem Is Nowhere tells you things that you didn't know you didn't know about Harlem. - Darren Pinckney author of High Cotton

Pitt's book untangles the myth and meaning of Harlem's legacy. Through multiple characters both past and present, Pitt examines the epic history of Harlem. A thought provoking read - Pride

Rhodes-Pitts analysis encompasses all the great names associated with Harlem but also unearths some fascinating, forgotten characters - Siobhan Murphy, Metro

Harlem is Nowhere offers a sensitive, determinedly personal meditation on the neighbourhood's past and present and, above all, its mythology and symbolism - Daniel Matlin, Literary Review

A] remarkable and beautifully written debut ... Moving - or dancing - between memoir, folklore, literary criticism and psychogeography, Rhodes-Pitts hymns this city within a city, a place at least as populated with utopian aspirations and abandoned dreams as with people ... Simultaneously celebratory and elegiac, acute and poetic, scholarly and rooted in the everyday, Harlem is Nowhere has earned its place in the canon of literature inspired by the endlessly fascinating city of New York - James Attlee, Independent

A vivid and moving love letter to Harlem, from its earliest incarnation as a "Negro colony" to the increasingly gentrified neighbourhood of today ... this book is a smorgasbord of delightful vignettes and poignant evocations of old Harlem ... As a great, sweeping history of Harlem, this book is valuable. As a piece of travel writing, which allows us glimpses into the precious mundane moments that in lesser hands might go unnoticed, it is engaging. But it truly comes alive on account of the personality of the writer herself, the "gazer" on the outside of society who is always happy to share a stoop with the disenfranchised and listen carefully and sensitively to their stories on our behalf - Jake Wallis Simons, Independent on Sunday

A challenging, lyrical account of an attempt to understand a place that has been variously described as "the cultural capital of black America" and "the home of black Zionism" ... the book re-creates Rhodes-Pitts's experience of Harlem, leaving the reader with the enjoyable task of picking through the rich and illuminating fragments. - Edmund Gordon, Sunday Times

A homage to the "El Dorado of black literature", Harlem is Nowhere is also about the difficulty of saying something new about a place that has inspired so many. - Kasia Boddy, Daily Telegraph

A challenging, lyrical account of an attempt to understand a place that has been variously described as "the cultural capital of black America" and "the home of black Zionism" ... the book re-creates Rhodes-Pitts's experience of Harlem, leaving the reader with the enjoyable task of picking through the rich and illuminating fragments - Edward King, Sunday Times

A homage to the "El Dorado of black literature", Harlem is Nowhere is also about the difficulty of saying something new about a place that has inspired so many - Kasia Boddy, Daily Telegraph

New York life and its ever-changing tones and flavours gave Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts an urgent, buzzing backdrop to the suite of memoirs and reflections in Harlem is Nowhere: her set of dazzling riffs on the cultural citadel of Black America. - Boyd Tonkin, Books of the Year, Independent

A brilliant memoir of teenage years from one of our finest writers - Ian Rankin, Scotsman

[A] tone poem on the glorious past of and uncertain prospects facing a neighbourhood she rightly describes as "the Mecca of Black America" ... I say "tone poem" partly to indicate the abiding, and extensive, pleasures of the author's voice and prose style, which is vivid and engaging, at times haunting - D.D. Guttenplan, Times Literary Supplement

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