An absolutely brilliant essay collection covering race, motherhood, career, travel, and more. I don't usually take the time to appreciate individual lines in a book, but the sentences here had me stopping to savor each one.
“Camille T. Dungy’s Guidebook to Relative Strangers is a powerful beauty of a book. While it is a study of race, history, trauma, and memory told through travelogue, it is also a memoir of motherhood and a love letter to her daughter.”
— Anton Bogomazov, Politics and Prose Bookstore, Washington, DC
A National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist
An award-winning African American poet debuts in prose with a stunningly graceful and honest exploration of race, motherhood, and history.
As a working mother whose livelihood as a poet-lecturer depended on travel, Camille Dungy crisscrossed America with her infant, then toddler, intensely aware of how they are seen, not just as mother and child, but as black women. With a poet’s eye, she celebrates her daughter’s acquisition of language and discoveries of the natural and human world around her. At the same time history shadows her steps everywhere she goes: from the San Francisco of settlers’ and investors’ dreams to the slave-trading ports of Ghana; from snow-white Maine to a festive, yet threatening, bonfire in the Virginia pinewoods.
With exceptional candor and grace, Dungy explores our inner and outer worlds—the intimate and vulnerable experiences of raising a child, living with illness, conversing with strangers, and counting on others’ goodwill. Across the nation, she finds fear and trauma, and also mercy, kindness, and community. Penetrating and generous, Guidebook to Relative Strangers is an essential guide for a troubled land.
About the Author
Camille T. Dungy is an award-winning poet and editor and professor of creative writing at Colorado State University. She lives with her husband and child in Fort Collins, Colorado.
Some essay collections challenge your intellect, others break open your heart, a few grant a new way of seeing, and occasionally one sings a song you feel in your bones. It’s rare that a collection hits all four notes, yet Camille T. Dungy's first collection of essays. . . does so with impressive range, ambition, and timeliness. . . . May all of us be as fearless and honest in our self-examination as Dungy is here, and may more essays challenge us to become compassionate, wide-awake humans—for ourselves, our children, and the strangers we encounter. — Cate Hodorowicz
Motherhood memoirs make up a robust though almost entirely white genre. Camille T. Dungy’s evocative debut . . . meticulously parses the ways in which work, travel and creativity affect black motherhood, and in doing so provides a much needed perspective. — Anjali Enjeti
Part memoir, part travelogue, part parental guide, this book is a stunningly beautiful love letter from a mother to her daughter to help her daughter embrace the world she lives in, to introduce her to her ancestors, and prepare her for the future. — Edwidge Danticat, author of The Art of Death: Writing the Final Story
Dungy’s prose is like the landscapes she has known: rich, fertile, astoundingly beautiful, and also singular and exacting. What better a voice to explore the rapture of motherhood, the fraught vulnerability of living in a black body, and the beautiful intimacy that can arise between near strangers? Guidebook to Relative Strangers is world-enlarging and indispensable.
— Tracy K. Smith, US Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Life on Mars
An elegant, meditative love letter to the life of the writer, the natural world, histories from which we cannot nor should not extricate ourselves, black womanhood, black motherhood, and the unabashed joy of raising up a black girl… [A]s intimate as it is expansive. — Roxane Gay, author of Difficult Women
Calm, lucid, and sturdy, Dungy’s account stares down the effects and unevenly distributed burdens of our shared past and present with clear eyes, full heart, and the kind of dedication to fact, feeling, and history that we truly need now, as ever. — Maggie Nelson, author of The Argonauts
In stirring and insightful prose, the wonder of our shared journey is spelled out on these pages. The music from Dungy’s pen is as intimate as the blues and as epic as a symphony. — Tayari Jones, author of Silver Sparrow
For Dungy, history is a shared root system that nourishes her vital imagination. Guidebook to Relative Strangers is a balm for the American soul.
— Gregory Pardlo, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Digest
voice engages as a conversation with a dear friend might, with affection for
the possibilities revealed in human relationships. These gorgeous essays are
essential and deeply compelling. — Wendy S. Walters, author of Multiply/Divide