While exploring the hidden conversation on race unfolding in America in the wake of President Barack Obama’s election, Michele Norris discovered that there were painful secrets within her own family that had been willfully withheld. These revelations — from her father’s shooting by a Birmingham police officer to her maternal grandmother’s job as an itinerant Aunt Jemima in the Midwest — inspired a bracing journey into her family’s past, from her childhood home in Minneapolis to her ancestral roots in the Deep South. “The Grace of Silence: A Memoir” (Vintage, $14.95), is an exploration in self discovery as the acclaimed reporter examines her own racial legacy and what it means to be an American.
Norris began to write, through original reporting, a book about “the hidden conversation” on race that is unfolding nationwide. She would, she thought, base her book on the frank disclosures of others on the subject, but soon she was forced to confront the fact that “the conversation” in her own family had not been forthright.
“For me it should say ‘an accidental memoir’ because this isn’t the book I set out to write,” explained Norris. “I wanted to listen to people around the country as I traveled around and listened to the way people talk about race — an issue that people talk about in the public sphere, but in private sometimes we're afraid to talk about it. They’re afraid that they might step on a landmine or that they might say something that would lead people to think that they were insensitive. I felt that if I listened to the hidden conversation, the way people talked about it in private spaces, I could put together a book of essays that would reveal something about how we talk and think about race. The problem was when I tried to tune in the frequency and pick up this conversation I started to pick up on things in my own family. I realized that there was a hidden conversation about race among the people who raised me — the people I loved — the people I thought I knew so well.”
As a media veteran, Norris has received scores of accolades and was chosen in 2009 as Journalist of the Year by the National Association of Black Journalists. Norris’ informed curiosity is on display daily in her role as a popular host of NPR’s “All Things Considered.” Her role on the flagship afternoon radio program subtly reveals to the breadth of her award-winning new career: ABC News correspondent; contributor to The Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, and the Los Angeles Times and guest commentator on “Meet the Press,” “The Chris Matthews Show” and “Charlie Rose.”
In her exploration of the “things left unsaid” by her father and mother when she was growing up, “The Grace of Silence” discloses a reporter's discovery of how her character was forged by both revelation and silence.