“White people declared that the south would rise again. Black people raised a fist and chanted for black power. Somehow we negotiated a space between those poles and learned to sit in classrooms together….Lawyers, judges, adults declared that the days of separate schools were over, but we were the ones who took the next step. History gave us a piece of itself. We made of it what we could.”

America’s struggle to overcome the taint of racial prejudice continues to make headlines, whether through claims of racial profiling, or through individual acts of blatant discrimination. We’ve even seen a return to the kinds of violence that first flared when, over sixty years ago, the Supreme Court ruled in Brown versus the Board of Education that America’s schools could no longer be segregated by race.

In an effort to understand just how this deep division has perpetuated, critically acclaimed novelist Jim Grimsley decided to revisit that turbulent time when in 1966 the school in his small eastern North Carolina town was first integrated. That was the year federally mandated integration of the schools went into effect in the state, at first allowing students to change schools through “freedom of choice,” replaced two years later by forced integration.
Going to one of the private schools that almost immediately sprang up was not an option: Jim’s family was too poor to pay tuition, and while they shared the community’s dismay over the mixing of the races, they had no choice but to be on the front lines of his school’s desegregation. What he did not realize until he began to mix with these new students was just how deeply ingrained his own prejudices were, and how those prejudices had developed in him despite the fact that prior to starting sixth grade, he had actually never known any black people.

Now, over forty years later, Grimsley looks back at that school and those times—remembering his own first real encounters with black children and their culture—and at his growing awareness of his own mostly unrecognized racist attitudes. The result is a narrative that is both true and deeply moving. Jim’s distinctive voice guides readers through those classrooms and onto the playing fields as, ever so tentatively, alliances were forged and friendships established. And looking back from today’s perspective, he asks, how far have we really come?

“Perhaps the most incisive parts of this memoir are the sections wherein Grimsley examines how a white Southern boy might learn to be a racist. One of the most extraordinary passages in the book is a catalog of all the casual ways the N-word was easily deployed around him from early childhood, even by his parents: from racist nursery rhymes to racist similes — smelling like, dressing like, dancing like, with hair like . . . and on and on. . . . An elegiac reminder that 40 years later, those tensions have not been entirely laid to rest.”
– New York Times Book Review

“In the most compelling sections of How I Shed My Skin, Grimsley acknowledges the racism around him. There were many good people in his life – good people who were also racists. When he explores if and how those characteristics can coexist, he brings together his present and his past.” – Washington Post

“[Grimsley’s] memories of junior high and high school remain especially vivid and poignant, and he recalls them in sometimes agonizing detail in How I Shed My Skin…Like Randall Kenan, he catches the weird ethos of a generation caught with one foot in Gone with the Wind or To Kill a Mockingbird and another in the world of “Star Trek” and Motown…How I Shed My Skin reminds us how far we’ve come in 40 years, and how far we didn’t go.” – Wilmington Star News

“Grimsley has a powerful tale to tell, about change, and the fears and triumphs that go with it… despite the continued crossfire, he and his classmates – “cool and slouched, shy and lost” – desegregated the schools of Jones County and became instruments of its history.”

“[A] beautifully introspective memoir.. In a world that continues to struggle with race relations, How I Shed My Skin is a stunning beacon of hope.”
– Shelf Awareness for Readers

“Powerful…Grimsley’s brave self-examination of his own childhood prejudices makes this book personal; his struggle to reconcile and overcome those prejudices makes it universal and well worth reading.”
– Birmingham Magazine

“Like Jim Auchmutey’s The Class of ’65, Grimsley’s eloquent, moving meditation is a welcome addition to our constant, ever-evolving conversation on race.”
– Atlanta Magazine

“Jim Grimsley isn’t one to shy away from the pained and difficult memories of his childhood…haunting.”

“When we are faced with sudden social change, how do we respond? Author and playwright Jim Grimsley’s new memoir HOW I SHED MY SKIN: Unlearning The Lessons of a Racist Childhood … offers a fascinating glimpse of how children and their teachers reacted to the changes brought about by school integration, a deeply personal reflection on the everyday racism that had shaped Grimsley’s childhood prior to this historic change, and a meditation on the lifelong practice of recognizing and rejecting racism in its many insidious forms.”
– The Late Night Library blog

“Like most of his classmates, Grimsley says, ‘I was a good little racist’…It’s the defining moment in Grimsley’s new memoir about desegregation, How I Shed My Skin: Unlearning the Lessons of a Racist Childhood, a day when he sensed that everything he’d been taught about black people was wrong…Forty years later, how far have we come? … Once again, as How I Shed My Skin so poignantly proves, it may fall to the next generation of children to be the face of a better future.”
– The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“Excellent…layer by layer, young Grimsley sheds his deepest beliefs, prime among them that white skin bestows superiority…a must-read book.”
– The Charlotte Observer

“Looking back some 40 years later, acclaimed writer Grimsley offers a beautifully written coming-of-age recollection from the era of racial desegregation.”
– Booklist, starred review

“In this sensitive memoir, Grimsley probes the past to discover what and how he learned about race, equality and democracy ‘from the good white people’ in his family and community.”
—Kirkus Reviews

“A powerful meditation on race.”
– Natasha Trethewey, US Poet Laureate

“We want a new world. We long for it, but we do not know what it will be nor what it will demand of us. The boy in this narrative is becoming a man in a time of enormous change, and his point of view is like a razor cutting through a callous. Painful and healing. Forthright and enormously engaging. This is a book to collect and share and treasure.”
– Dorothy Allison, author of Bastard Out of Carolina

“In all his beautiful works, Jim Grimsley has told hard, hidden truths in luminous, subtle prose. Good White People is no exception. Here, he renders history not on the grand, sociological scale where it is usually written, but on the very personal terms, where it is lived. This is an exquisite, careful story of a white boy of simple background and great innocence. Jones County, North Carolina, in the late sixties and early seventies was a small world. But Grimsley’s book illuminates a very large theme—the shadow old evil casts upon the young. As a graduate of neighboring Goldsboro High in the same period, I identified with every scene.”
–Moira Crone, author of The Not Yet

“Jim Grimsley’s unflinching self-examination of his own boyhood racial prejudices during the era of school desegregation is one of the most compelling memoirs of recent years. Vivid, precise, and utterly honest, Good White People is a time-machine of sorts, a reminder that our past is every bit as complex as our present, and that broad cultural changes are often intimate, personal, and idiosyncratic.”
– Dinty W. Moore, author of Between Panic & Desire

“How I Shed My Skin is, simply put, a brilliant book. While I was reading, I kept thinking two things. One, this is totally shocking. Two, it’s not at all shocking, but a familiar part of my life and memory.   Grimsley’s narrative is straightforward and plain-spoken while at the same time achingly moving and intimately honest, and it does more to explain the South than anything I’ve read in a long ,long time.”
– Josephine Humphreys, author of No Where Else on Earth