I always fancied myself an actress or a director or a producer or a playwright or a costume designer . . . or all of them at the same time. In other words, I wanted to be in show business. From the way I memorized every show tune from every hit musical in the late 50s through the 60s and performed them in front of our dining room mirror ad nausea, I knew I was destined to shine as brightly as any light in Times Square. “I Feel Pretty” from West Side Story, sung, or rather warbled in full Spanish accent, waving a ‘lace’ fan I fashioned out of paper doilies and twirling, wrapped in one of my mother’s starched tablecloths, was one of my favorite numbers. Did I say there was a long, lean crack in that mirror that my parents never got around to fixing? Well, I think that may have been a sign.
I never made it to Broadway but after more than twenty five years of chasing other muses (a wanderlust satisfied by traveling extensively on four continents and living abroad on two as a diplomat, and a love of art fulfilled by teaching art and architectural history at a university), I returned to my childhood dream of writing, books instead of plays. The first of which, an award-winning family memoir, was a love letter not only to my ancestors but also to a whole generation of black Americans who fought the good fight way before the more publicized civil rights movement of the 1950s.
I also wrote it because their stories were left out of our history books.
I’ve resurrected my thespian talents as a public speaker, talking about my book and unknown civil rights activists and their accomplishments at more than sixty venues (and counting) in Europe, the United States, and North Africa, with my all-time favorite being Oxford University. I’ve also produced art exhibitions, directed conferences, and organized film programs.
My book was recently translated into Italian and I have been presenting it at bookstores and on television and radio in Italy.
I am currently working on a novel, loosely based on some of the characters from my memoir and I find fiction a lot more challenging. Stay tuned.
So, I really did get to be in the ‘business.’ It just took a while.
Singing? Well, I confine my trilling to the bathtub or in a group where I can’t really be heard! And costumes? Just look in my closet!
Oh! And by the way, did I mention I live in Rome? An outdoor theater without parallel!
Gail Milissa Grant
PS – If you would like more details, find here attached my full Curriculum Vita.
From PublishersMarketplace Deal Report (Dec 12):
Author of AT THE ELBOWS OF MY ELDER Gail Milissa Grant’s THE SABLE CLOAK, set in St. Louis during the 1940s, about a formidable Black political boss, and his equally forceful wife, who are determined to build a legacy for future generations of their family in spite of tragic obstacles, to Karen Kosztolnyik at Grand Central, in a pre-empt, for publication in summer 2024, by Cherise Fisher at Wendy Sherman Associates (world).
“At the Elbows of my Elders”
For a video snapshot of the book, click here!
I am especially proud of my family memoir because it was conceived in order to honor my elders who, as black Americans, worked hard, went to school and through one courageous, everyday act after another paved the way for the modern civil rights movement of the 1950s and beyond.
Even while in grade school, I felt that one day their story and mine would be of interest to others.
Besides the innumerable stories my parents told me about how they navigated through a segregated America, they also broke a residential color line when, in the late 1940s, they created our home in an all-white neighborhood in St. Louis, Missouri.
We were the only blacks, the only professional family, and my brother and I, the only Protestants in a Catholic grade school. An intimidating situation, to be sure, but one that was ultimatelyfortifying and uplifting.
I invite you to sit with me and my elders (as a child, my chin was just about level with their elbows as I sat with them at our dining room table, hence the title of my book), and listen to my father’s tales of working as a railroad porter and as a waiter and jazz musician on pleasure boats that still plied the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River before becoming one of St. Louis’s premier lawyers and civil rights activists, and enjoy my mother’s recounting of her coddled upbringing as the only child of one of Missouri’s first black women embalmers.
You will also hear about the celebrities we hosted during the 1950s because they could not stay in any of the major hotels since St. Louis was still in the grips of Jim Crow laws, which divided blacks from whites—in schooling, housing, and most public facilities. Through one vignette after another, I draw back the curtain on those times and present vignettes of a part of U.S. history most Americans know nothing about.
My book is filled with dozens of photographs many of them never published before and some dating from the late 1800s. Click here for the photo gallery!