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Triangular Road: A Memoir

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In Triangular Road, famed novelist Paule Marshall tells the story of her years as a fledgling young writer in the 1960s. A memoir of self-discovery, it also offers an affectionate tribute to the inimitable Langston Hughes, who entered Marshall’s life during a crucial phase and introduced her to the world of European letters during a whirlwind tour of the continent funded In Triangular Road, famed novelist Paule Marshall tells the story of her years as a fledgling young writer in the 1960s. A memoir of self-discovery, it also offers an affectionate tribute to the inimitable Langston Hughes, who entered Marshall’s life during a crucial phase and introduced her to the world of European letters during a whirlwind tour of the continent funded by the State Department. In the course of her journeys to Europe, Barbados, and eventually Africa, Marshall comes to comprehend the historical enormity of the African diaspora, an understanding that fortifies her sense of purpose as a writer.In this unflinchingly honest memoir, Paule Marshall offers an indelible portrait of a young black woman coming of age as a novelist in a literary world dominated by white men.


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In Triangular Road, famed novelist Paule Marshall tells the story of her years as a fledgling young writer in the 1960s. A memoir of self-discovery, it also offers an affectionate tribute to the inimitable Langston Hughes, who entered Marshall’s life during a crucial phase and introduced her to the world of European letters during a whirlwind tour of the continent funded In Triangular Road, famed novelist Paule Marshall tells the story of her years as a fledgling young writer in the 1960s. A memoir of self-discovery, it also offers an affectionate tribute to the inimitable Langston Hughes, who entered Marshall’s life during a crucial phase and introduced her to the world of European letters during a whirlwind tour of the continent funded by the State Department. In the course of her journeys to Europe, Barbados, and eventually Africa, Marshall comes to comprehend the historical enormity of the African diaspora, an understanding that fortifies her sense of purpose as a writer.In this unflinchingly honest memoir, Paule Marshall offers an indelible portrait of a young black woman coming of age as a novelist in a literary world dominated by white men.

30 review for Triangular Road: A Memoir

  1. 5 out of 5

    robin friedman

    My Soul Has Grown Deep Like The Rivers In his poem, "The Negro Speaks of Rivers", the great African American poet Langston Hughes embodied black history with the words quoted in the title of this review. Langston Hughes, large bodies of water, and black history all figure prominently in this new eloquent memoir, "Triangular Road" by the African American novelist and short story writer, Paule Marshall (b. 1929). The recipient of both Guggenheim and MacArthur Fellowships, Marshall is best-known for My Soul Has Grown Deep Like The Rivers In his poem, "The Negro Speaks of Rivers", the great African American poet Langston Hughes embodied black history with the words quoted in the title of this review. Langston Hughes, large bodies of water, and black history all figure prominently in this new eloquent memoir, "Triangular Road" by the African American novelist and short story writer, Paule Marshall (b. 1929). The recipient of both Guggenheim and MacArthur Fellowships, Marshall is best-known for her first novel "Brown Girl, Brownstone" and for a subsequent novel "Praisesong for the Widow." Her new book is based on a series of lectures that Marshall delivered at Harvard University in 2005 titled "Bodies of Water" that focused on the impact of rivers, seas, and oceans on black history and culture in the Americas. Besides its broad depiction of African American history, Marshall's book tells her own story as a person and as a writer. The "Triangular Road" refers to three far-apart places that deeply influenced Marshall: Brooklyn, where she was born, Barbados, the birthplace of her mother and father, (and the Caribbean generally), and Africa. All three places receive personal characterizations from Marshall. These three places also capture Marshall's own view of herself. Near the end of her memoir, she writes: "After all, my life as I saw it, was a thing divided in three: There was Brooklyn, U.S.A. and specifically the tight, little, ingrown immigrant world of Bajan Brooklyn that I had fled. Then, once I started writing, the Caribbean and its conga line of islands had been home off and on for any number of years. While all the time, lying in wait across the Atlantic, in a direct line almost with tiny wallflower Barbados, had been the Gulf of Guinea and the colossus of ancestral Africa, the greater portion of my tripartite self that I had yet to discover, yet to know." Marshall describes a series of journeys over rivers, seas, and oceans that she took between 1965 and 1977. The journeys begin with a trip to Europe that she took under State Department auspices at the invitation of her mentor, Langston Hughes, whom Marshall describes as a "loving taskmaster, mentor, teacher, griot, literary sponsor, and treasured elder friend." Marshall offers an insightful portrayal of Hughes in his late years and a tribute to his importance as a friend and writer. In a brief second section of the book, Marshall uses a Labor Day visit to a secluded spot along the James River in Richmond to meditate upon the long history of slavery, including the frequently fatal and always torturous ocean passages from Africa through the West Indies to colonial Virginia and the teeming slave markets in early Richmond. Marshall observes that "this particular holiday needs to be more inclusive in whom it acknowledges." Marshall is referring to the long and harsh history of slave labor in the United States which is frequently overlooked in thinking about labor during the American holiday of Labor Day. In the lengthy third section of the book, Marshall describes her visit to Barbados, the home of her parents, and a subsequent visit to Granada. These visits serve as the source of further reflections on the role of the Caribbean Islands in the slave trade and of the life of immigrants, from the West Indies, such as Marshall's parents, in the United States. Marshall's father had been an illegal immigrant, and he abandoned his family in Brooklyn when Marshall was eleven years old. Marshall's mother tried to discourage her precocious daughter's intellectual and literary ambitions in favor of a job with the phone company. Marshall offers flashbacks of her early life and of her decision to become a writer. These descriptions have a strong feel of immediacy. Thus, Marshall describes how she first went to Barbados, with the encouragement of her editor, to shorten and revise the manuscript of what became her first novel. She learns that "writing is rewriting, is honing, pruning, refining, is becoming, essentially, one's own unsparing editor" On her trip to Grenada some years later, Marshall overcomes writer's block and learns how a novelist captures the heart of a historical experience through the use of the imagination and empathy rather than simply through a dry recitation of fact:: "Never let what really happened get in the way of the truth." In the final section of the memoir, Marshall again crosses the ocean in 1977 for a trip to the Second World Festival of Black and African Arts held in Lagos, Nigeria in 1977. She meditates on the unity of black experience, for all its variety, and upon the need for a shared understanding and sense of forgiveness between Africans and black people living elsewhere for their respective historical roles in slavery. Marshall, at the age of 79, continues to write about her African experience with plans for further novels and stories to follow. This is a beautiful intimately written short book which captures a great deal about a writer's life and about the "deep like the rivers" heart of a people. Robin Friedman

  2. 5 out of 5

    Sharon

    Expertly written and absorbing in every way. I enjoyed the writing and the story, a memoir of a young writer's life and her affiliation with Langston Hughes, who helped her career along. Paule Marshall was an attractive, thoughtful-looking child and became a beautiful young woman with her sights set squarely on a writing career. She has collected a number of awards for her writing over her career. Her family emigrated from Barbados, and I learned from and savored the parts where Marshall spent t Expertly written and absorbing in every way. I enjoyed the writing and the story, a memoir of a young writer's life and her affiliation with Langston Hughes, who helped her career along. Paule Marshall was an attractive, thoughtful-looking child and became a beautiful young woman with her sights set squarely on a writing career. She has collected a number of awards for her writing over her career. Her family emigrated from Barbados, and I learned from and savored the parts where Marshall spent time there in order to write and visit her remaining family. It was a time before tall hotels hogged the best beaches and life was interesting and tranquil. She writes of Granada, where she also went to write, and of a visit to Carriacou, which found it's way into some of her later writings. Marshall haunted libraries and researched, so the information on early slavery is fascinating and sad. Her own family and other emigrants from Barbados who settled in New York formed close relationships fraught with all the variety most families experience, sometimes in humorous ways. A refreshing read from an accomplished writer ahead of her time.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth Higginbotham

    Interesting ways to put together a memoir or a segment of a life that does look at USA, the Caribbean as well as Africa. We can see some of the sources of her novels, but the process of writing and particularly creating the space to write is very nice.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Tiffany

    While there were some very strong parts that interested me a great deal, this sparse memoir gave me all too few details about the subject. I didn't really have the opportunity to connect with her.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Bookmarks Magazine

    All reviewers were highly interested in a memoir by Marshall, an author critically praised but not well known. While praising the book as a whole, they disagreed on the overall effectiveness of Marshall's technique. Some reviewers felt that structuring the book as a series of essays emphasized Marshall's focused prose and unique voice. Others argued that readers would have been better served by a more developed, chronological autobiography. But the message of most reviewers was that readers shou All reviewers were highly interested in a memoir by Marshall, an author critically praised but not well known. While praising the book as a whole, they disagreed on the overall effectiveness of Marshall's technique. Some reviewers felt that structuring the book as a series of essays emphasized Marshall's focused prose and unique voice. Others argued that readers would have been better served by a more developed, chronological autobiography. But the message of most reviewers was that readers should get to know Marshall better, and all hoped that this brief glimpse into her life would be a means to that end.This is an excerpt from a review published in Bookmarks magazine.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Alex Roberts

    Pretty familiar terrain for those who've read Marshall, but the clean, spare prose and genuine warmth are certainly to be appreciated. Something along the lines of a visit with a favorite aunt. Like Langston Hughes though, as she relates, I'm afraid that I too cannot come around to the silent "e" of her name and continue to refer to her as "Paul-e". Twenty plus years of habit are hard to change. And is it really Na-BAH-kov?

  7. 5 out of 5

    Greta

    Some of what Paule Marshall describes in her memoir, Triangular Road, was described in greater detail in her first book, Brown Girl Brownstone and both are good books. I especially enjoy Paule writing about her friendship with Langston Hughes, her mentor and promoter at the start of her writing career. Her descriptions of African American unrest in also very interesting.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Wendy E.

    I enjoyed this memoir, especially the chapter on Richmond,VA. Marshall weaves in U.S. history as she tells her own story. I've ordered Brownstones, Brown Girl for the library, and am anxious to read it.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Cheryl Elaine

    Very engaging. I read this while in Aruba. First time reading works by Ms. Marshall and I intend to read more.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Hannah

    well written, very interesting, made me want to read her fiction

  11. 5 out of 5

    Erica

    Quite good and a lovely tribute to all the multitudes of slaves lost throughout history somewhere between the Caribbean and Africa.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Petrina

    Discuses the green flash at Grenada; opening homage to Langston Hughes

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jacqueline Trescott

    For the fans of Paule Marshall, her observations of Brooklyn, the Caribbean immigrant experience, Langston Hughes, and much more are on target. And from Paule, beautifully written.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Sidik Fofana

    Six Word Review: I absolutely live for writer memoirs.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Candace

    Essays/memoir on her experiences as an American-Barbadian writer. The first focuses on her experiences with Langston Hughes. Reading these fluid pieces makes me want to go back to her novels.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Nia

    A great, spare memoir - but i have a feeling it's only useful for folks who have already read her novels, essays, and short stories.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    I randomly picked this up off a sale table at The Strand bookstore in New York City. It was a surprisingly good find.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jacqueline

    An excellent memoir of Paule's literary journey. Filled with a lot of backstory and historical events of her time gives you a clear picture of what her life was like. The events surrounding Langston Hughes and how he played a part in Paule's life were interesting. Lots of references to how Paule used images and situations to create her further novels was inspiring. She also mentions how she had 'writers-block' which I found quite amazing, considering her work. It just goes to show that this happen An excellent memoir of Paule's literary journey. Filled with a lot of backstory and historical events of her time gives you a clear picture of what her life was like. The events surrounding Langston Hughes and how he played a part in Paule's life were interesting. Lots of references to how Paule used images and situations to create her further novels was inspiring. She also mentions how she had 'writers-block' which I found quite amazing, considering her work. It just goes to show that this happens to the best of us. A great read! As a memoir, it goes to show that you can really expound on a slice of your life in a short, easy-to-read book.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Lena

    Not worth the price of the book. No way a memoir.

  20. 4 out of 5

    R.K. Cowles

    2 2/3 stars

  21. 4 out of 5

    Pierce Ellinwood

    An interesting narrative for the ideas about diaspora that I'm discussing in my current class, but otherwise this fell short of being a really engaging memoir for me.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jane

    As an intro to Paule Marshall’s extraordinary voice, you cannot do better than this short gem of autobiography.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Patricia Lonadier

    Very cool story- now want to read her novels!

  24. 5 out of 5

    Sandra Lambert

  25. 5 out of 5

    Karan

  26. 5 out of 5

    Kijani Mlima

  27. 5 out of 5

    Bart

  28. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

  29. 4 out of 5

    Anna Springer

  30. 4 out of 5

    Mello

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