A New York Times Notable Book | Lambda Literary Award Winner | Long-listed for the PEN Open Book Award
“Charles Blow is the James Baldwin of our age.” — Washington Blade
“[An] exquisite memoir . . . Delicately wrought and arresting.” — New York Times
Universally praised on its publication, Fire Shut Up in My Bones is a pioneering journalist’s indelible coming-of-age tale.
Charles M. Blow’s mother was a fiercely driven woman with five sons, brass knuckles in her glove box, and a job plucking poultry at a factory near their segregated Louisiana town, where slavery's legacy felt close. When her philandering husband finally pushed her over the edge, she fired a pistol at his fleeing back, missing every shot, thanks to “love that blurred her vision and bent the barrel.” Charles was the baby of the family, fiercely attached to his “do-right” mother. Until one day that divided his life into Before and After—the day an older cousin took advantage of the young boy. The story of how Charles escaped that world to become one of America’s most innovative and respected public figures is a stirring, redemptive journey that works its way into the deepest chambers of the heart.
“Stunning . . . Blow’s words grab hold of you . . . [and] lead you to a place of healing.” — Essence
“The memoir of the year.” — A. V. Club
About the Author
CHARLES M. BLOW has been columnist at the New York Times since 2008, and he appears regularly on MSNBC, CNN, Fox News, the BBC, Al Jazeera, and HBO. Blow lives in Brooklyn with his three children and was named 11th most influential African American in the world by The Root magazine.
"Fire Shut Up in My Bones is a luminous memoir that digs deep into territory I've longed to read about in black men's writing: into the horror of being submerged in a vast drowning swirl of racial, spiritual, and sexual complexity, only to somehow find one's self afloat, though gasping for breath, and then, at long last and at great cost, swimming. I believe both Ancestors and Descendants will cheer."
"Some truths cannot be taught, only learned through stories - profoundly personal and startlingly honest accounts that open not only our eyes but also our hearts to painful and complicated social realities. Charles Blow's memoir tells these kinds of truths. No one who reads this book will be able to forget it. It lays bare in so many ways what is beautiful, cruel, hopeful and despairing about race, gender, class and sexuality in the American South and our nation as a whole. This book is more than a personal triumph; it is a true gift to us all."
—MICHELLE ALEXANDER, author of The New Jim Crow
"Fire Shut Up in My Bones is a profoundly moving memoir of Charles Blow's coming of age as a black boy in the Deep South; of the way his sensitive and gifted intelligence slowly begins to kindle, becoming ablaze with wonder at the world and his place in it. Above all, this is the story of a courageously honest man arriving at his decision to 'stop running like the river . . . and just be the ocean, vast, deep, and exactly where it was always meant to be.' Blow has written a classic memoir of a truly American childhood."
—HENRY LOUIS GATES
"Fire Shut Up in My Bones is a heart-stopping memoir: a portrait of the artist—the exceptionally talented columnist Charles Blow—that also puts a searing face on all sorts of abstractions, like poverty, race, sexuality, and a human persistence sometimes known as courage. So particular yet gracefully timeless is this evocation of childhood that I sometimes felt as if I were reading an update of To Kill a Mockingbird, in which the poor, black protagonist’s moral education destines him to endure, and prevail."
—DIANE McWHORTER, author of Carry Me Home
"Stunning...Blow's words grab hold of you like a fever that shakes you up at first but eventually leads you to a place of healing."
"Blow masterfully evokes the sights, sounds and smells of rough-and-tumble, backwater Louisiana...a well-written, often poetic memoir"
"Page by elegant page, Charles Blow has constructed an eloquent and courageous memoir that explains why black and white is never just that—whether it comes to race or the rich, conflicted stew of childhood memory."
—GWEN IFILL, moderator, Washington Week, and co-anchor, PBS NewsHour
"Brave and powerful . . .a singular look at a neglected America."
"When you finish Charles Blow's mesmerizing memoir, you will cry. And you will better understand poverty, the south, racism, sex, fear, rage, and love. Then you will miss being in his authorial grip. Then you will start reading this stunning book again."
"Charles Blow is a fellow Louisianan. His memoir, Fire Shut Up in My Bones, warmed and tickled my bones. The memoir takes its title from a passage from the book of Jeremiah in the Old Testament: 'His word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.' I am supremely glad Blow can no longer hold his own story inside and has chosen to share it with us. From a small town kid growing up in extreme poverty in the segregationist Deep South to a columnist at The New York Times, Blow is an absolute treasure and his powerful story deserves to be heard."
"Fire Shut Up in My Bones is a masterwork of remarkable power, authenticity and honesty. Blow writes with passion about coming of age in a rural Louisiana community suffering from the ravages of racism and poverty. His riveting memoir frankly takes on sexuality, religion and social hierarchy in the African-American community and reveals the inner soul of one of America's most intriguing public intellectuals."
—DARREN WALKER, president of the Ford Foundation
"Fire Shut Up in My Bonesis an instant classic of American letters. Charles Blow's eloquent memoir is haunted by surges of pain and suffering that rarely escape into the open with such searing honesty. Blow's brilliant and self-critical narrative contains truths which no American can afford to ignore, and which few black men have dared to tell. In this irresistible story of the journalist as a besieged boy and determined young man, one of the nation's foremost social critics bares his soul and speaks his mind with redemptive clarity."
—MICHAEL ERIC DYSON
"I missed him the moment I read the last word. Charles Blow's delicate, dangerously vulnerable journey from boyhood to manhood to himself, takes hold of you like a long lost friend you don't ever want to let out of your sight again. Fire Shut Up In My Bones finally, exquisitely gives voice to the complex and gloriously diverse Black American male identity. A modern memoir that reads like a great classic novel, it's the kind of masterful storytelling that divides folks into those who have read and those who have not. I am forever grateful to be among the privileged haves."
—MICHAELA ANGELA DAVIS
"Charles Blow has given us an enormous gift with this penetrating and honest memoir. I could not put it down, riveted by the journey, with no idea where it was taking me but deeply illuminated by the end. Blow opens up his life, growing up in the Deep South, and shines a light on the complexities and diversity of sexual identity in a way that can only help advance the march toward equality."
—MICHELANGELO SIGNORILE, author of Queer in America
"It takes a great deal of courage to divulge your deepest secrets to the world, but Charles Blow shares the story of his personal journey from a rare place of honesty, especially for such a celebrated public figure. In Fire Shut Up in My Bones, Blow has constructed a beautifully crafted, timeless story of coming of age in the face of betrayal, adversity, and self-doubt. I expect this memoir will not only resonate today but will also enlighten and inspire readers for years to come."
"This book is an elegant heartache. Charles Blow's story is by no means an easy one, but he tells it beautifully, a gorgeous read about a gorgeous little boy striving to become himself amidst a world discouraging him from doing so. Blow does an astonishing job of intertwining hardship with humor, pain alongside pleasure, revealing his signature talent for prose that is transcendently poetic at the same time it's grounded in microscopic details of life and insight."
"Charles Blow is one of the most astute literary voices we have in America today. His is an eye that sees inside our communities, inside our world, inside himself, in a way that not only makes us think, but permits us to feel, to be, to change."
"Boldness shines through."