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The House on Childress Street: A Memoir

1 rating: 3.0
A book by Kenji Jasper

Journalist and novelist Jasper (Dark) shares insightful, though often tedious moral lessons on black manhood. With the recent death of his 83-year-old grandfather, Jesse James Langley Sr., Jasper delves into his forebear's difficult, angry journey in … see full wiki

Tags: Book
Author: Kenji Jasper
Publisher: Harlem Moon
1 review about The House on Childress Street: A Memoir

This is the House that Jesse Built

  • May 16, 2006
  • by
Kenji Jasper presents his nonfiction debut in The House on Childress Street, a memoir about his family, most specifically his late maternal grandfather, Jesse Langley Sr. This book is a departure from the literary urban fiction Jasper is known for which includes Dark and Dakota Grand. In this sometimes slow moving tale, he is trying to come to grips with the remote, distant man who was the patriarch of the Langley clan. Jasper's quest was to understand how this man's influence drove the rest of the family and to understand the legacy he left.

Jesse Langley was considered a real man, albeit a complex man, to his family and his community. He went to work every day, provided a home and a paternal presence.
Childress Street was where Jesse Langley reigned supreme. It was where family and friends gathered and where no one ever questioned his remoteness, his acid tongue or his words and deeds. As is so often the case in African American families, his family was left with unanswered questions.

Jasper felt a need to find his grandfather's roots as if he was in a race to escape the madness that threatened to infiltrate his life. He and Jesse had planned a trip to Greenville, North Carolina, the old homestead but Jesse died a few weeks before their departure. Jasper made the trip by himself in 2004, met some of Jesse's brothers and asked them questions about him. Most they could not answer. For example, the mystery of who Jesse's mother was and what happened to her remains a mystery. Jasper came home with lots of stories but realized the answers he was looking for in the old cotton fields of Greenville were not to be found.

The story meandered around trying to find a frame of reference jumping from Jesse's life, the dissection of Jasper's parents' marriage, to observations on to the construction of the Black family and to his childhood and coming-of-age. He attempted to juxtapose his own life and that of his grandfather's but it never quite fit. The continuous scrutinizing of his parent's lives plagues this discourse even as Jasper yearns for a family of his own that so far has eluded his thirty years on this earth.

This book was as much a commentary on the Black family; a dissection of the history of a particular family as well as a delving into the psyche of the man who loved him and who he loved but did not know. Jesse Langley Sr. led a hard scrabble life in the South, came to Washington, D.C., married, raised a family and died like so many black men of his era. Part memoir, part sociological study, this book was a much needed catharsis for Jasper. I would recommend to those who are interested in studying the Black family.

Dera R. Williams
APOOO BookClub

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