Jerald Walker Reflects on Coming of Age as a Black Man in America in “How To Make A Slave”

Walker’s new essay collection is a finalist for a National Book Award. He and Stephen Henderson discuss growing up Black, raising kids during the Obama election, and finding joy in the midst of hardship.

Jerald Walker is a professor and author who just released a new collection of essays called “How To Make A Slave.”

Taking a break from the onslaught of COVID and election-related news, Walker and Detroit Today’s Stephen Henderson reflect on growing up as African American children, raising kids during the Obama election, and finding joy in the midst of hardship.

Listen: Author and Professor Jerald Walker on his early life in Chicago, writing from a personal and authentic space and finding joy in the Black American experience.


Jerald Walker is a Writing, Literature and Publishing professor at Emerson College and the author of a new collection of personal essays called “How To Make A Slave And Other Essays” which is a finalist for a National Book Award.

Growing up on the South Side of Chicago, Walker explains that near-death experiences became normalized at a relatively early age. “That environment doesn’t leave you, it stays with you… Those streets are the shadows that still plague me,” says Walker, while recounting the last time he ever used drugs — an incident from his youth that ended in the shooting death of a friend.

In describing his feelings around raising his own children in an environment very different from where he grew up, he notes that it’s been a complex experience that’s made him remember his native Chicago neighborhood in many different ways. He says that while it was dark at times, there were also many moments of laughing with friends and having fun. “Being Black is not a sentence for being miserable or oppressed but… when Obama was elected I knew [I had to prep my kids on how to talk about it.] I didn’t want to tell them… that being Black means white oppression,” says Walker, who adds that “the African-American experience is one that’s full of opportunities for irony and fun.”

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