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Whether Lee Stringer is describing "God's corner" as he calls 42nd Street, or his friend Suzy, a hooker and "past due tourist" whose infant child he sometimes babysits, whether he is recounting his experiences at Street News, where he began hawking the newspaper for a living wage, then wrote articles, and served for a time as muckraking senior editor, whether it is his adventures in New York's infamous Tombs jail, or performing community service, or sleeping in the tunnels below Grand Central Station by night and collecting cans by day, this is a book rich with small acts of kindness, humor and even heroism alongside the expected violence and desperation of life on the street. There is always room, Stringer writes, "amid the costume" jewel glitter...for one more diamond in the rough."Two events rise over Grand Central Winter like sentinels: Stringer's discovery of crack cocaine and his catching the writing bug. Between these two very different yet oddly similar activities, Lee's life unwound itself, during the 1980s, and took the shape of an odyssey, an epic struggle to find meaning and happiness in arid times. He eventually beat the first addiction with help from a treatment program. The second addiction, writing, has hold of him still.Among the many accomplishments of this book is that Stringer is able to convey something of the vitality and complexity of a down--and--out life. The reader walks away from it humming its melody, one that is more wise than despairing, less about the shame we feel when confronted with a picture of those less fortunate, and more about the joy we feel when we experience our shared humanity.
Like Shaking Hands with God details a collaborative journey on the art of writing undertaken by two distinguished writers separated by age, race, upbringing, and education, but sharing common goals and aspirations. Rarely have two writers spoken so candidly about the intersection where the lives they live meet the art they practice. That these two writers happen to be Kurt Vonnegut and Lee Stringer makes this a historic and joyous occasion.The setting was a bookstore in New York City, the date Thursday, October 1, 1998. Before a crowd of several hundred, Vonnegut and Stringer took up the challenge of writing books that would make a difference and the concomitant challenge of living from day to day. As Vonnegut said afterward, ""It was a magical evening.""A book for anyone interested in why the simple act of writing things down can be more important than the amount of memory in our computers.
Like his brother before him, Stringer was surrendered to foster care, shortly after birth, by his unwed and underemployed mother--a common practice for unmarried women in mid-century America. Less common was that she returned six years later to reclaim her children. Rather than leading to a happy ending, though, this is where Stringer's story begins. The clash of being poor and black in an affluent, largely white New York suburb begins to foment pain and rage which erupts, more often than not, when he is at school. One violent episode results in his expulsion from the sixth grade and his subsequent three-year stint at Hawthorne, the "sleepaway school" of the title.What follows is an intensely personal, American journey: a universal story of childhood where childhood universals are absent. We experience how a child fashions his life out of the materials given to him, however threadbare. This is a "boy-meets-world" story, the chronicle of one child's struggle simply to be.
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