Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Beyond Despair: Life in Harlem Eddy Harris' Stay in Tenement

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Beyond Despair: Life in Harlem Eddy Harris' Stay in Tenement

Article excerpt

STILL LIFE IN HARLEM

By Eddy L. Harris

276 pages, Henry Holt, $20 ***** ST. LOUIS AUTHOR Eddy L. Harris has taught at Washington University and vacationed in the South of France; he likes champagne, caviar and smoked Nova Scotia salmon. So why did he live like a pauper for two years in a rundown tenement in Harlem? Harris' latest and fourth book, "Still Life in Harlem," is a memoir of that sojourn. The Negro Renaissance, Duke Ellington, the Cotton Club are but dim memories. Harris says, "Practically every street reeks of ruin, poverty and despair"; Harlem is not populated with hopeful immigrants with eyes set on Striver's Row, but teary old men trying to remember how it used to be, burnt-out scavengers and junkies, welfare mothers who are the knowing accomplices of their 17-year-old drug dealer sons. Some residents blame society for the catastrophe: "They don't want us to have good jobs or really anything decent at all. . . . They don't want us to be part of their world. And they don't want us living anywhere but here. This is what they really want us to have." Others blame themselves, each other, or nobody. Harris learns that Harlem is no longer "the center of the black universe," that it belongs "to the Cubans, the Mexicans and the Dominicans and Puerto Ricans." Often he wandered forbidding streets dressed incongruously in lavender shirt and white silk pants; his adventures on these and other occasions provided tautly drawn vignettes that rivaled those of Malcolm X or James Baldwin. On one striking occasion he describes his father, who came to visit, standing in the street as though wondering what happened. But he also recalls how he defused potentially violent incidents with reason and calm, and about the redoubtable Bessie Delaney, a dentist who stayed in Harlem to furnish affordable dental services to the community, and lawyer Hans Hegeman, who left his practice to tutor its youth. …

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