The Skin Between Us: A Memoir of Race, Beauty, and Belonging (Hardcover)

The Skin Between Us: A Memoir of Race, Beauty, and Belonging By Kym Ragusa Cover Image

The Skin Between Us: A Memoir of Race, Beauty, and Belonging (Hardcover)


Special Order—Subject to Availability

Finalist for the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award for Nonfiction

A memoir of astonishing delicacy and strength about race and physical beauty.

Kym Ragusa’s stunningly beautiful, brilliant African American mother turned heads as she strolled the streets of West Harlem. Ragusa’s white, working-class, Sicilian American father, who grew up only a few streets away in Italian East Harlem, had never seen anything like her. At home, their families despaired at the match, while in the streets the couple faced taunting threats from a city still racially divided.

From their volatile, short-lived pairing came a sensitive child with a filmmaker’s observant eye and the intangible gifts of an exceptional writer. Both Italian American and African American, she struggled to find a place for herself as she grew, and, in this book, she brings to life the two families and the warring, but ultimately similar, communities that defined her.

Through the stories and memories of her maternal ancestors, Ragusa explores her black family’s history, from her great-great-great-great-grandmother, who escaped from slavery in the South, to her grandmother, a journalist for the society columns of black newspapers, to her glamorous mother, who became a fashion model in Europe. Entwined with these are the stories of Ragusa’s paternal ancestors: her iron-willed great-grandmother, who came to New York from a small village in the mountains of Calabria; her grandmother, the first to be born in America, who struggled to fit in both in her Italian community and later in the American suburbs; and, finally, Ragusa’s father, a Vietnam veteran.

At the center of the memoir are her two powerful grandmothers, who gave her the love and stability to grow into her own skin. Eventually, their shared care for their granddaughter forced them to overcome their prejudices. East and West Harlem, the Bronx and suburban New Jersey, rent parties and religious feste, baked yams and baked ziti—all come vividly to life in Ragusa’s sensuous memories and lyrical prose, as she evokes the joy, the pain, and the inexhaustible richness of a racially and culturally mixed heritage.

Kym Ragusa is a writer and documentary filmmaker. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.
Product Details ISBN: 9780393058901
ISBN-10: 0393058905
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
Publication Date: May 17th, 2006
Pages: 240
Language: English
A refreshing debut memoir about growing up in between races and in between families.
— Kirkus Reviews

Fresh, honest, and important.
— Publishers Weekly

Not since The Color of Water have the complexities and the blessings of a multiracial lineage been explored so lovingly and elegantly, yet so dramatically and honestly. You will fall in love with Ragusa and all the members of her family, as this child of two Harlems—both African American and Italian American—learns the mysteries of both strands of her past. The best memoir I’ve read in years.

— Louise DeSalvo, author of Crazy in the Kitchen and Writing as a Way of Healing

Think of The Woman Warrior, The Liar's Club, and Wide Sargasso Sea, then add an entirely new voice born out of New York’s Harlem and Sicily’s Palermo. Raucous, hilarious, heartbreaking, and luscious, Ragusa’s work is destined to take its rightful place alongside our most powerful books.

— Gina Barreca, author of Babes in Boyland and editor of Don’t Tell Mama:

Kym Ragusa’s brave and engaging book is beautifully written, a thoroughly good read from beginning to end. From the story of a sometimes painful, conflicted past, she has created a testament to an American future, proud of its multicultural history and ready to hold all our different lives within its borders.
— Hettie Jones, author of How I Became Hettie Jones

Kym Ragusa stands bravely and with great grace in the troubled space between East and West Harlem, Italian and Black, to tell us about the pain of this in-between place and its challenges and beauty. What an extraordinary book! Not since Piri Thomas’s Down These Mean Streets has this world between been described so courageously and with such insight. I read this with a deep sense of moral urgency, convinced that the life Ragusa made for herself with her grandmothers could be the ground of hope for the city itself.

— Robert Orsi, author of The Madonna of 115th Street