‘High Yella:’ A Multiflavored Family Memoir Of Race, Love And Loss

‘High Yella:’ A Multiflavored Family Memoir Of Race, Love And Loss


Dawn Ennis, Contributor, Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion

Cover of “High Yella” by Steve Majors The University of Georgia Press

“I was born a poor Black child.”

Fans of writer and actor Steve Martin’s early work will recognize those words from his 1979 comedy, The Jerk. Readers of Steve Majors’ powerful family memoir, High Yella, learn early on that the author used this memorable line in a key moment of courtship; An awkward attempt to use humor to explain a childhood marked by racism, shadeism, poverty, abuse, alcoholism, homophobia and the black magic that Black women in his family called “hoodoo.”

“The fact that I was born a poor Black child was just a part of my past,” Majors writes. “The full story of how that poor Black child grew up and escaped his past is wilder and crazier than any screenplay Steve Martin could ever dream up.”

The central part of High Yella involves race, identity and family. Majors, 55, is a light-skinned, cisgender Black gay man from upstate New York who was the youngest of five children, raised Roman Catholic, and married to a cis, white, gay Jewish man. He writes how he “checked boxes” when he needed to, and is perpetually plagued by people who presume to question his identity because he is white-passing. Majors also shares his own challenges—and failings—as a parent, and recounts painful recollections of family dysfunction and strife as a child…

Read the entire interview here.

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