Paper Curls and Peanut Earrings is a coming of age memoir set against the backdrop of Harlem in the ‘50s, ‘60s, and the ‘70s. The memoir centers on the beginning of the end of the happy period of my childhood, which is scarred by sexual and physical abuse. It documents the beginning of when my mother and I began our struggles, or as she would say, “trying to keep our heads above water.” The story moves from a two room flat in a four story tenement building on East 132nd Street to the second floor of a brownstone rooming house on West 134th Street, to other rooming houses on 133rd and 138th Street on Lenox Avenue. Each dwelling features a colorful cast of southern migrants to Harlem like my mother. They left the Jim Crow south and cotton fields in search and hope of economic betterment.
In the bleakness of these rat/cockroaches infested rooming houses, and tenements there existed a beauty of spirit and hope among the roomers that ‘tomorrow’ would be a better day, and every Friday at sundown they'd ‘let loose-get juice’ after laboring all week. Parts of the storiess are also set in other Harlem institutions such as The Savoy Ballroom, The Kennedy Community Center, and the wide sidewalks of Lenox Avenue with political speeches and storefront preachers. In the 60s my mother died at the age of 38, the same year I became pregnant at 15 years old. Determined to finish high school and go to college, my life journey takes me and my baby daughter to Monticello, New York, Savannah, Georgia, and back to Harlem through the 70s to the present-day. Harlem and I— both once in ruins—struggled, persevered, and like the Phoenix, we arose from the ashes.