Friday, May 10, 2024

Up Home: One Girl's Journey by Ruth J. Simmons

Rating: 5 of 5 stars 
Duration: 06:51:00
Published: September 2023

I first learned about Up Home: One Girl's Journey, an autobiography by Ruth J. Simmons through one of Audible's many monthly sales. Convincing myself I didn't need to purchase another book (ha!), I borrowed the audiobook from my local library. Ruth J. Simmons did such a beautiful job telling her story, in her words, in her way, I had to purchase a physical copy. 

I will start this review by providing a bit of background about Dr. Simmons. She the first African American to serve as president for an Ivy League institution, Brown University. She holds an undergraduate degree from an HBCU, Dillard University, and received her graduate degrees, including her doctorate, from Harvard University. Her research is in romance languages and literature. And as she tells the story of her humble beginnings in east Texas, she explains how her local school teacher made an impact on her, sparking her love of words. It was at this point in the audiobook I empathized with Simmons. On page 71 of the hard copy she said: 

Fascinated with the precision afforded by mysterious multisyllabic words, I began memorizing some that Miss Ida Mae used. I collected words as some children my age collected dolls, stamps, or baseball cards; the pursuit was not merely empowering, it was as if I was inheriting a fortune. 

It was her love of words and the way she shared them that made me fall in love with this book. I was also engrossed and moved by the story of this woman who grew up the youngest child of 12 and sharecroppers who would go on to become an effective leader in academia and be held in high regard. I'm sure no one in her family could have imagined that she would attain such status coming from a home where they often lacked the basic necessities. I related to so many parts of her story. My parents grew up similarly in their respective homes and have also overcome the odds of racism, societal expectations, prejudice, redlining and so much more to be successful pillars of society. When Simmons spoke of her childhood and her mom straightening her hair with a hot comb, again I related and I smiled. 

The majority of the book, Simmons talks about her childhood, the challenges with her father, her mother's untimely death, and her quest to get an education. As a reader, I felt as though she was walking me down her life's path. I only wish the journey would have been longer and she would have shared more about her career and what challenges she faced in being the "first" in a lot of spaces. Perhaps Simmons is saving that for a future book. I sure hope so. I'm not going to fool myself. I'll be buying a copy of that one too if it comes to fruition! 

Recommendation: This is definitely one of those books where representation is important and needed. Simmons testimony is not only a beautiful one but is greatly needed, and I am thankful she published her story of triumph over everything. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. said, of her book, "Destined to take its place in the canon of great African American autobiographies." I certainly agree, but I might revise his quote to say this book will take its place in the great canon of autobiographies, period. 

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.


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