"Having been a filmmaker most of her life, the author of this lyric book makes clear the effects of the movies on real life drama, and vice versa. She plays lights and shadows on the imagined and the real and guides the reader to a truer seeing."
Maxine Hong Kingston, author
"Not since James Baldwin's essays on Hollywood films have we seen such moving and insightful testimony about how commercial culture forms the frames through which we learn about individual and collective identities. With exceptional flair and vision, Blue creates a completely new form of autobiography that links the public and the private, the personal and the political, and the spectator and subject in exciting new ways."
George Lipsitz, author and historian
". . . an extraordinary first-person account of what it is like growing up as a Black woman in the South and carving out a professional life in a culture distorted by racism. It is one of those books in which one person's life illuminates the complexities of an entire society."
Howard Zinn, historian
"Carroll Parrott Blue brilliantly captures the chilling interior life of her mother, a professional Black woman in twentieth-century America. This beautifully written life story combines images and illustrations, social history, film and art analysis to create a richly textured work that poignantly explores the intersection of race, gender, class, and region in the construction of a unique identity, and in so doing reveals an awesome talent."
Darlene Clark Hine, historian
"Blue's words and stories lead readers into her personal and family history, which increases our own ability to contextualize how memory guides our life choices. It is a courageous book that helps us to see America through the lens of an innovative photographer, filmmaker, and passionate writer."
Deborah Willis, art historian
"In Carroll Parrott Blue's provocative memoir The Dawn at My Back, a montage of words and images unfolds before us with a focused dignity. As if the narrative is moved by light and shadow, like a postmodern scrapbook of experiences and sensations, lives converge into a brilliant canvas portrayed through immense integrity and imagination. The Dawn at My Back is a delight to read and see."
Yusef Komunyakaa, poet
Individual lives, viewed through the right lens, can reveal the essence of a time and place with startling clarity. In this innovative memoir, filmmaker Carroll Parrott Blue turns her lens on her mother's and her own lives as African American women in the segregated South before and during the Civil Rights era. This mother-daughter story foregrounds two strong women who fought institutionalized racismone through community activism, the other through artistic creativityeven as the effects of racism and their differing responses to it frayed the very fabric of their relationship.
In telling this story, Blue underscores how strongly popular culture images of Blacks affected the lives of individual African Americans. She remembers movies such as Imitation of Life that she and her mother viewed together and fought about, ads that portrayed Negroes as unclean, TV shows like Amos 'n' Andy that perpetuated stereotypesand shows how the unending barrage of demeaning images set her mother on a lifelong quest for self-improvement and middle-class respectability. Blue also describes how the same images, coupled with her mother's relentless efforts to impose essentially white standards of behavior and appearance on her daughter, created in Blue the desire to be a shaper of images rather than just a consumer, which eventually led to her becoming a photographer and filmmaker. Sweeping across the whole twentieth century, this mother-daughter story ultimately becomes a seething American history, the story of a growing African American awareness.