Meet the Author - Matthew Guterl
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Join us on Friday, April 7th at 7:00 p.m. for a reading and discussion with Matthew Guterl, author of Skinfolk: A Memoir.
Skinfolk: A Memoir by Matthew Pratt Guterl
"With precision and unwavering care, Guterl explores the ethics involved in his parents’ endeavor and confronts the consequences of even the best intentions. The result is an eye-opening, instructional, and necessary take on race in America." - Publishers Weekly
A haunting, poignant story of growing up in a mixed-race family in 1970s New Jersey, in the tradition of The Color of Water.
Race is made, not born. It can materialize with a thunderous suddenness. It can happen to you in moments that will be cauterized into memory as if into flesh.
Could a picturesque white house with a picket fence save the world? What if it was filled with children drawn together from around the globe? And what if, within the yard, the lines of kin and skin, of family and race, were deliberately knotted and twisted? In 1970, a wild-eyed dreamer, Bob Guterl, believed it could.
Bob was determined to solve, in one stroke, the problems of overpopulation and racism. The charming, larger-than-life lawyer and his brilliant wife, Sheryl, a former homecoming queen, launched a radical experiment to raise their two biological sons alongside four children adopted from Korea, Vietnam, and the South Bronx—the so-called war zones of the American century. They moved to rural New Jersey with dreams of creating what Bob described as a new Noah’s ark, filled with “two of every race.”
While the venture made for a great photograph, with the proverbial “casseroles and potato chips out for everyone,” the Brady Brunch façade began to crack once reality seeped into the yard, adding undue complexity to the ordinary drama of a big family. Neighbors began to stare. Vacations went wrong. Joy and laughter commingled with discomfort and alienation. Familial bonds inevitably buckled. In the end, this picture-perfect family was no longer, and memories of the idyllic undertaking were marred by tragedy.
In lyrical yet wrenching prose, Matthew Pratt Guterl, one of the children, narrates a family saga of astonishing originality, in which even the best intentions would prove woefully inadequate. He takes us inside the clapboard house where Bob and Sheryl raised their makeshift brood in a nation riven then as now by virulent racism and xenophobia. Chronicling both the humor and pathos of this experiment, he “opens a door to our dreams of what the idea of family might make possible.”
In the tradition of James McBride’s The Color of Water, Skinfolk exposes the joys and constraints of love, blood, and belonging, and the persistent river of racial violence in America, past and present.
Matthew Pratt Guterl is professor of Africana studies and American studies at Brown University. He is the award-winning author of four books, including Josephine Baker and the Rainbow Tribe. He lives in Providence, Rhode Island.