Published: April 5, 2000
This novel, published when Poitier was 73, is a philosophical reflection of his life, his accomplishments, and what makes for a life well lived in his opinion. It is also about race, integrity, grit and perseverance.
Poitier was born on Cat Island, a tiny island in the Bahamas. He was not aware of the color of his skin or what significance this would have on his life while on Cat Island. Indeed, there was not even a piece of glass that would have showed him his reflection in his childhood home. He lived a life of simplicity on the Island, with routines that could be counted on. It wasn’t until age 10, when his family moved to Nassau that he saw his first automobile. In Nassau, Poitier was swept up with a grew of kids that stole and he narrowly escaped going to jail. His parents sent him to the US to live with one of his brothers and his family. He began working as a dishwasher, but ended up auditioning for a role in a play. He was told that since he didn’t read, he should work as a dishwasher or something. He had never seen anything shameful in his work up until that point. After that, a Jewish man began to teach him to read every night after work. He worked hard and took acting classes drawn with a passion to acting from the start.
Poitier discusses the roles he was offered and refused because he did not feel the characters’ actions portrayed integrity. He discusses his feelings about being black and outsider in America. He talks about his close friends, with whom he was often asked to sign an paper not to socialize with, because of their progressive views. Of course, he always refused. He speaks about how his value system, sense of self and integrity formed at an early age in a life of simplicity and how this grounded him. He let his ideals and strength of character guide him, even if this meant refusing a role and going hungry.
He talks about the movies he was part of, the actors he becomes friendly with, and his rise to fame, and the breaking of so many race barriers along the way. He speaks about his family, and his relationships with his two wives and children.
He is a gifted actor, writer and speaker. To hear him reflect upon his life within which he overcame such adversity is inspirational. One point that came through loud and clear in all of this was that now that are lives are more complicated and enriched in media, we have lost the simplicity that leads to quiet and profound reflection.
I’m not a big consumer of celebrity memoirs, but was challenged to read this as part of Book Riot’s 2018 Read Harder Challenge. Sidney Poitier is a brilliant actor whose movies I’ve very much enjoyed and I was so pleased to get to know the man behind the actor in this memoir. I listened to the audio version, narrated by the author which has won numerous awards, as he is such a gifted speaker. If you decide you are interested in this book and are wanting to learn more about this charismatic, talented man I would highly recommend listening to the audio version.