Monday, January 31, 2011

Frances Lefkowitz's "To Have Not"

Frances Lefkowitz is the author of To Have Not, named one of the five “Best Memoirs of 2010” by She has been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize, and once for Best American Essays.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to To Have Not and reported the following:
All you really need to know about page 99 of To Have Not is this phrase, “Meet the Gifted Classes.” It’s the title of the chapter that begins on page 99. It’s also the title, slightly altered, of an essay I published eight years ago in The Sun magazine, an essay that eventually expanded into this book. In other words, the seed that grew into To Have Not appears, like a living fossil, front and center on page 99.

The chapter is about the year I entered junior high school and got transferred to what was then called “the gifted classes.” My new classmates, it turned out, were gifted in every sense of the word—gifted with homes and meals and stereos and cars and vacations and gifted also with a faith in the world and their place in it that was foreign to me.

Until that year, the world was full of kids like me, kids whose parents were struggling to keep them fed, clothed, in school, and out of trouble. Kids who’d spent a lot of time on their own, scheming and scamming, like their parents, to get by. Kids who who took the streetcar to school and ate free or reduced-price lunches in the cafeteria. Then suddenly I was plopped into the middle of these school classes filled with the middle classes, with kids who got driven to school by their parents, and who brought homemade lunches in crisp white paper bags, bags made expressly for the purpose of carrying school lunches. In one fell swoop of academic placement, I’d moved from the Have Nots to the Haves.

So by entering a new school class, I was entering a new social class as well. The rest of the book is about what it was like to cross those class lines, and how I ended up at an Ivy League college (on scholarship, of course), mingling with the children of the people who ran our country. It also tells the story of my emotional evolution, how I moved from shame to anger to acceptance and appreciation for all that I do have. And along with the rough-and-tumble scenes of childhood, it describes my adventures: surfing, traveling, and hanging out with rock stars. But it all started with the gifted classes.
Learn more about the book and author at Frances Lefkowitz's website, the FrancesLefkowitz Author page on Facebook, and @MeetFrances on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue