My Soul Looks Back by Jessica B. Harris

My Soul Looks Back

In this captivating new memoir, award-winning writer Jessica B. Harris recalls a lost era—the vibrant New York City of her youth, where her social circle included Maya Angelou, James Baldwin, and other members of the Black intelligentsia.In the Technicolor glow of the early seventies, Jessica B. Harris debated, celebrated, and danced her way from the jazz clubs of the Manhattan's West Side to the restaurants of the Village, living out her buoya...

Details My Soul Looks Back

TitleMy Soul Looks Back
Release DateMay 9th, 2017
GenreAutobiography, Memoir, Nonfiction, Biography, Cultural, African American, Food and Drink, Food, Audiobook

Reviews My Soul Looks Back

  • Chrystani
    I fell for it. I took the black millenial bait. "Oh, check her out in that fashionable still relevant outfit on the cover of this book". A black author talking about the great and sexy setting of New York with some heavy weights? Gotta support black women authors you know? YEA, sign me up. I committed the book sin of, "Judging a book by it's cover". I've worked in libraries for 12 years, I should know better.This book was bad. It really was. By t...
  • Erin
    Ms. Harris (who I had never heard of prior to this book) wrote a memoir about having a seat at the cool kids' table. During 1970's New York City where icons-in-the-making like James Baldwin and Maya Angelou were members of an elite group of African American artists during a time when intelligence, creativity and activism were at its peak. While being surrounded by such creativity is worth recalling any chance you get, her story could have been be...
  • Jai Danielle
    "It was a time of life lived fully, deeply. Random encounters would smoothly morph into dinners or gatherings that would then be transformed into events that could go well into the wee hours of the morning, but always underneath it all, there was the heartbeat of work and writing and speaking and teaching and all the daily madness of life." My Soul Looks Back, Jessica B. Harris "My Soul Looks Back" by culinary historian Jessica B. Harris didn't ...
  • Shirleen R
    (Review revised, final: 12/4/2017)Frankly, the ethics of My Soul Looks Back preocuppy me, even more than its content. Jessica Harris's way of storytelling pushed my "Hmm, something's hinky" button. I asked myself many times: am I reading A Memoir of Jessica B. Harris , or The Unauthorized Biography of Ex-Boyfriend Samuel Clemons Floyd, Jr. with the appendix: The Final Performance Days of Maya Angleou ? Had Ms. Harris divulged as many intimate,...
  • Leslie Reese
    2019-06-11 to rate this one? 3.5 stars?I mostly liked it as an historical document that captures a particular generation of people - many of whom were en route to becoming literary, artistic, and cultural luminaries - during a particular moment in time. If you are looking for an intimate, straightforward juicy tell-all, this isn't it! I was often frustrated with Jessica B. Harris's roundabout restraint in this sometimes linear, oftentimes tim...
  • Nascha
    My Soul Looks Back, a memoir by Jessica B. Harris, appeared on my news feed on Good Reads several times before I finally clicked on its link to read its description and decide if I was interested or not. After reading its brief general description, I was mesmerized. I quickly requested the book and waited anxiously for its arrival. When it came, it did not disappoint. Ms. Harris sounds exactly like someone I would love to read about, a cosmopolit...
  • Gabrielle
    This will probably be my last memoir for a while (well, until Michelle Obama's!) because I struggle with being critical of someone's lived experiences. This book truly made me sad - how does one be on the margin of her own memoir? I truly adore James Baldwin and Maya Angelou, but I was so exhausted with reading about them in a memoir that was supposed to center Jessica. She began her narrative by even claiming herself to be a sideline character a...
  • J Beckett
    Like several books previously reviewed, My Soul Looks Back, was an accidental find. I hadn't read any prior reviews, knew little of the author (except she did something in the culinary world), and, based on the cover of the book, couldn't begin to imagine what I was embarking upon. But, as the book began, I was both awestruck and inspired, instantly. Harris is a writer (and chef, thespian, critic, academic, etc...) who, aiming for this outcome or...
  • Sian Lile-Pastore
    I liked this a lot - it's a lovely little snapshot of 1970s New York amongst the black stars and intellectuals - James Baldwin , Maya Angelou, Nina Simone (who said about The author - 'who's that bitch in the red dress?') Toni Morrison and more. It is the memoir of someone slightly on the periphery (she was a lot younger than the others) who maybe didn't realise how much she did actually fit in until later. It lovingly describes food, restaurants...
  • Tippy
    Loved this read. Literature, travel, and food, hells yes. I wish more of the authors professional experiences were included, shes incredibly humble about her expertise. The stories of spending time and intimately so with James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, Nina Simone, and more are fascinating. I love when my vocabulary is challenged and I learned a lot of great words as well as various French, African dishes that i looked up as i read. I also love the ...
  • Michelle
    Edit: In the intervening time since reviewing this book I've become even more disappointed with it -- having heard interviews with Jessica Harris, clearly a remarkable person in her own right and not just some hanger-on of Harlem greats, it seems that a memoir of hers should have had more -- well, of her. I suppose it makes sense that as Baldwin's renown has spiked in recent years that she would take time to reflect on the parts of her life that ...
  • Tereneh
    This lovely memoir painted pictures and palettes of a time that is past and present, future too. The icons of American and Black Excellence of the Black Atlantic culture from the 20th century whose impact is still felt today - Baldwin, Simone, Morrison, Angelou and more. All present. Imagining the moments of author Jessica B. Harris first meeting of each - she puts you her humble and young shoes. I cried reading it not for any real sadness - othe...
  • Robin
    This was an amazing memoir of the life and times of black luminaries in the 60s-70s and beyond. It travels from New York, to Europe, to Africa, to North Carolina. You may not recognize the author (I didn't!) but you'll definitely recognize the people in her circle. And, by the time you're finished, you'll have an appreciation for the author that you probably should have had before you started. :) Fantastic book. I recommend it for everyone who wa...
  • Sara
    Read for work. I had never heard of her before, and now I'm on a Jessica B. Harris binge. James Baldwin and the entire black literary/cultural scene of Manhattan in the 70s (with visits to Hait, West Africa and the South of France), food, Greenwich Village when a beginner journalist could afford to live there... this is one of those memoirs that I imagine the author's friends have been telling her to write for years.
  • Evette
    "My Soul Looks Back" chronicles Jessica B. Harris' tangential relationships to James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, Nina Simone, and other Black luminaries through her relationship with Samuel Floyd. It's beautifully written, and really captures a time when Black intellectuals loomed larger than life. However, "My Soul Looks Back" seems to drag a bit, especially near the beginning. It's only in later chapters that the story really pulls to...
  • Raquel
    Jessica B. Harris has had a fascinating life --- and I love her descriptions of food, particularly the meals she would have at West Village Spanish restaurant El Faro (RIP). But, it felt a little surface-y to me. She writes that she had deep conversations with luminaries like Maya Angelou, but never reveals what exactly they said. Things like that.
  • Read In Colour
    An amazing memoir of the author's time in James Baldwin's inner circle of friends that included Maya Angelou, Rosa Guy, Paule Marshall, Toni Morrison and other literary wonders.
  • Erika
    I expected a soul-searching memoir, but the book seemed more like a description of the famous people Harris knew and their activities. You can tell Harris has a deep interest in cuisine, and I was amazed that she could remember so many of her meals in detail. She described herself as on the periphery of Maya Angelou's and James Baldwin's circles of friends, and I could never tell if she wanted to be more included or not. The author was very reser...
  • Erin Ashley
    Didn't really like this book. I tried to ignore the reviews on here to let myself be free to inform my own opinion but I found this book to be pretty boring and seemed almost as if these were memories solely for her journal to keep and cherish. The interesting parts of these book however did increase my rating. I enjoyed the playlist function at the end and will create a playlist with these songs, I also enjoyed the recipes that went along with t...
  • freckledbibliophile
    The sheer immensity of the view into the spirits of some of the most influential black intelligentsias that Dr. Jessica Harris wrote about was marvelous to behold. My Soul Looks Back, evoked all kinds of emotions from me. There were many pieces of this book I could revel in, however, her relationship with Sammy was the one that I found the most intense pleasure in. The fact that some of his close friends became hers as well, and that one piece of...
  • Laila
    Harris has led a fascinating life and it's hard not to be in awe of the personal anecdotes about Maya Angelou's New Year's parties and James Baldwin's writing "dungeon." However, the book had no structure, meandered quite a bit and there was so much more I was left wondering about HER, not all the famous people around her. I finished it, but I wouldn't recommend it.
  • michaelben
    I enjoyed the arc of Dr. Harris' life-story very much, and she certainly gives NYC a rich sense of place/time. But I was frustrated/disappointed with the writing itself - not the style per se, but the execution of the style and an annoying repetitiveness. I believe the book would have been better served by a more forceful editor.
  • Madlyn
    This was a great book.
  • Erik
    It began as a time of famous clubs like Studio 54 and other venues less savory like the Continental Baths...I never made it to either of them, but I knew many folks who were regulars at each. This sentence, closing out one of the opening salvos of Jessica Harris memoir neatly sums up the deep-rooted problems of this book. What i assume is meant to be a memoir, instead acts as a laundry list of names célèbre - some full paragraphs can actually, ...
  • Mia
    I started this book pretty chafed on the pretentious tone and subject matter particularly the way in which the author flaunts her privileged upbringing, but I quickly recognized I was simply unable to believe that there could possibly be a black woman who grew up without the socioeconomic struggles I've come to expect from stories like this. After understanding that this uncharted territory was causing me to be unfairly biased, I was able to sit...
  • Susan
    Don't want to give anything away but love, love this book--the 1970s in New York and Paris with this iconic circle of friends--page by page you share amazing meals with them and literature and trips all over the world. Music, food, liquor and friendship in the 1970s--a destination read. There are incredible recipes sprinkled in throughout the book [can we still buy ham hocks?] and a music list at the end for each chapter! This book is so special!...
  • Never Without a Book
    My Soul Looks Back is an extremely sensitive and compelling story of NY in the 60s and the life and times of some of Americas greatest literary figures. This memoir had deeply emotional and touching insight into the plaque that swept America in the 70 and 80. I was excited to hear about Jessica's trips to Haiti and how much she loved it there and the mention of James Baldwin, Samuel Clemons Floyd, Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou & Nina Simone being p...
  • Amaka
    More so a memoir about Harris' famous friends, turbulent but memorable relationships, and French culture. The constant name dropping was hard to keep up with; Harris' circle extended far beyond just James Baldwin. To me, this was more about Sam Floyd and James Baldwin's lives rather than the writer herself.
  • Miles
    I'll start with the good. Harris' weaving of recipes within the memoir, as well as her discussion of food throughout, is where the book shines. That, along with her discussion of New York during the AIDS outbreak in the 1980s is where Harris' writing truly takes off. It is unfortunate that doesn't occupy more of the work.The rest, unfortunately, reads as surface-level celebrity gossip on the oft-referred to Black intelligentsia in the mid-20th ce...
  • Denise
    I did love the visuals of New York and all her travels and acquaintances, and I wanted to like this book so much that it took me a while to realize that it isn't that good. I could feel the presence of her thesaurus with unlikely words used too many times and unnatural phrases that kept recurring (i.e. "...stood me in good stead."). It renewed my appreciation for Hemingway's writing advice to just say it honestly without trying to be fancy. Somet...