Harlem is Nowhere | Granta

  • Published: 04/08/2011
  • ISBN: 9781847084576
  • 149x20mm
  • 304 pages

Harlem is Nowhere

Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts

A walker, a reader and a gazer, Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts is also a skilled talker whose impromptu kerbside exchanges with Harlem’s most colourful residents are transmuted into a slippery, silky set of observations on what change and opportunity have wrought in this small corner of a big city, Harlem, with its outsize reputation and even-larger influence. Hers is a beguilingly well-written meditation on the essence of black Harlem, as it teeters on the brink of seeing its poorer residents and their rich histories turfed out by commercial developers intent on providing swish condos for cool-seeking (and mostly white) gentrifiers. In a mix of conversations with scholars and streetcorner men, thoughtful musings on notable antecedents and illustrious Harlemites of the twentieth century, and her own story of migration (from Texas to Harlem via Harvard), Rhodes-Pitts exhibits a sensitivity and subtlety in her writing that is very impressive and very promising. There are echoes of Joan Didion’s distinctive rhythms in her prose. This is an exceptionally striking and alluring debut.

This is a lovely, beguiling book about the romance-and dangers-of bibliophily, [its] narrator in pursuit of a love object. This object turns out not to be Harlem itself as much as the library within it... Like Virginia Woolf, Rhodes-Pitts is bookish and devoted, interested in everyday matters. No geographic or racial qualifications guarantees a writer her subject. Only interest, knowledge and love will do that-all of which this book displays in abundance.

Zadie Smith, Harper's

It was Saul Bellow who invented the term "noticer" to denote someone who looks and sees, stands back and takes note. In this, her first book, Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts marks herself out as a first-rate noticer with the gift of being able to allow us to notice things exactly when she does. Her lyrical prose flows like the human gaze... Rhodes-Pitts arrived in Harlem to take up a job researching the photos of James Van Der Zee, that great chronicler of Harlem life in the 1920s. Her word portraits resemble Van Der Zee's work: warm, often beautiful, but with the distance of the observer composing the shot ... A great introduction to a rich and complex community, as much a state of being as a place on the map

Bonnie Greer, Financial Times

Another highly recommended Super Thursday non-fiction title is Harlem is Nowhere: A Journey to the Mecca of Black America, by the Texan Harvard graduate Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts, whose debut publication has already seen her compared to Joan Didion

Independent on Sunday

The Author

Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts is a writer whose work has appeared in Transition, the New York Times, and the Boston Globe. She has received awards from the Rona Jaffe Foundation, the Lannan Foundation, and the New York Foundation for the Arts. Originally from Houston, Texas, she graduated in 2000 from Harvard University and was a Fulbright Scholar in the United Kingdom. Sharifa is writing a trilogy on African-Americans and utopia, of which Harlem is Nowhere is the first volume. Harlen in Nowhere won the Whiting Writer’s Award for Non-Fiction in 2012.

More about the author →