Get To Know: Deborah D. Douglas

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Open Book: Get to know Deborah D. Douglas

U.S. Civil Rights Trail by Deborah D. Douglas

Deborah D. Douglas is an award-winning journalist, cultural critic, and thought leader specializing in the African American lived experience. Her work has been cited by the New York Times, and she’s won numerous awards for her writing for Oprah magazine and other outlets.

Moon U.S. Civil Rights Trail  offers a vivid glimpse into the story of Black America’s fight for freedom and equality. From eye-opening landmarks to celebrations of triumph over adversity, experience a tangible piece of history with Moon U.S. Civil Rights Trail.

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Describe your book in three words. Delicious, determined, destinations.

What is the view from your writing space?Currently, downtown Chicago. But to suggest I wrote this book surrounded by books, beauty and ergonomically correct furniture would be a fantasy. I wrote wherever I could. My apartment ceiling on campus outside Indianapolis fell in last year, and my office temperature controls at DePauw University where I teach ran amuck. I took over the breakroom, I wrote at Starbucks, I wrote hunched over in my bedroom, the one room that was habitable during my collapsed-ceiling phase. When the pandemic kicked off and school shuttered, I moved to Michigan and hunkered down in my mother’s open living room, surrounded by papers, a printer, books, collateral materials, you name it. I am now in a loft apartment in downtown Chicago with a decent view, as if all that craziness never happened. Go figure.Deborah D. Douglas Writing Space

How have your personal life experiences shaped your writing?I write because as a child, I could not always speak, so I made a promise to observe so one day I could write and say — EVERYTHING.

Moreover, the story my book tells is the backstory to how I became a child of the Great Migration growing up in a white flight community where my Black neighbors had a connection to the South. Both my divorced parents were children of sharecroppers, so really, anything we do is a miracle as far as I’m concerned. The civil rights story explains the economic destabilization I watched unravel growing up in ‘70s Detroit and the wonder of my father’s business on the West Side of Chicago. As a child, I didn’t fully realize the roles that of racial terror in the South or that the lack of economic opportunity played in my being born in Chicago and raised in Detroit. I moved South in junior high to live with my grandmother. What the civil rights movement started was still being implemented when I was a student.

In a small town outside of Memphis, I felt the pangs of racial unease in a school system that worked to keep us segregated inside the walls of our so-called integrated school. It takes a lot to show up to class every day with white teachers who, on their best day, are rooting for you to be mediocre or the type of Black person who can go through life taking instructions as your sole function in society. The South also grounded me in a better notion of family, tribe, and my responsibility to it because the other institution outside of school that loomed large was my church. It was largely responsible for my social programming and sense of mission, in addition to my radical Black and Jewish teachers in Detroit.

If you could get lunch with one author (living or dead), who would it be?Well, that would be Maya Angelou. I crashed Alex Haley’s funeral so I could meet her, but something came up in her travel plans. (I’m a little jealous of Oprah for her relationship with Maya.) It was not at all weird to crash the funeral because that church was a part of my childhood, and Alex is said to be a distant cousin.Maya-Angelou
What were some of your favorite childhood books?“Chicken Little” was my all-time favorite. Maybe that’s why I became a journalist, alerting people to what’s coming. Everything Maya Angelou wrote and poetry by Langston Hughes. In Tennessee, my across-the-street neighbors, the Taylors, had a home library full of books from when they attended historically Black colleges and universities. I found books that resonated with my lived experience there.

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