Memoirs teach me about life and writing

by Jerry Waxler

I’m reading 4 memoirs right now, and I learn something from each one.

From Margaret George’s “Never use your dim lights,” I’m learning how politicians jerk each other around, and how hard it is to stay idealistic in the world of politics.

From George Brummell’s “Shades of Darkness” I’m learning how brutal the Vietnam war was for infantry grunts. Wow, going out, watching friends die, and then going out again. I can’t imagine it.

From Frank McCourt’s “Angela’s Ashes,” I’m learning about growing up dirt poor in Ireland. And I’m listening to the audio book in awe as the Irish storyteller uses his superb voice to bring his characters to life. His inflections are so interesting, I feel like I’m in the hands of a master.

I just started “A Silent Gesture” by Tommie Smith. It starts not with his protest gesture at the 68 Olympics that made him famous, but with his return 30 years later to his Alma Mater to be praised and commended for the act that became such a powerful symbol of protest. Smith used the Olympic podium to silently register his protest, and in return, lost the advertising endorsements and other benefits his victory entitled him to..

Memoir touches history, and I touched the memoir

by Jerry Waxler

I went down to center city Philadelphia last night to Larry Robins book store, to hear a talk by Tommie Smith. Smith won gold in the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, and then shocked the world by raising his fist during the awards ceremony. It seems innocent enough now, but in 1968 it was considered so insolent it created a national furor. Smith’s memoir recounts the story. I loved being able to touch history like this, in a small room in a bookstore in Philadelphia. How many millions of people watched him as he made his small attempt to raise consciousness, and now almost 40 years later, I can see him, talk to him, and wonder what such a life is like. I can do better than that. I can read his book, Tommie Smith, Silent Gesture.

There was one more bonus to my visit. I met his publishers at Temple University Press. To publish books, it’s good to know who is publishing what.


In 2009, Larry Robin’s Bookstore closed its doors. The oldest independent bookstore in Philadelphia, Larry Robin will now host cultural events, but the book store is closed.