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Sarah Valentine Reading and Signing: When I Was White

February 7, 2020 @ 6:30 pm

We are pleased to welcome Sarah Valentine, author of the memoir When I Was White, on Friday, February 7th at 6:30pm.

At the age of 27, Sarah Valentine discovered that she was not, in fact, the white girl she had always believed herself to be. She learned the truth of her paternity: that her father was a black man. And she learned the truth about her own identity: mixed race.

And so Sarah began the difficult and absorbing journey of changing her identity from white to black. In this memoir, Sarah details the story of the discovery of her identity, how she overcame depression to come to terms with this identity, and, perhaps most importantly, asks: why? Her entire family and community had conspired to maintain her white identity. The supreme discomfort her white family and community felt about addressing issues of race–her race–is a microcosm of race relationships in America.

A black woman who lived her formative years identifying as white, Sarah’s story is a kind of Rachel Dolezal in reverse, though her “passing” was less intentional than conspiracy. This memoir is an examination of the cost of being black in America, and how one woman threw off the racial identity she’d grown up with, in order to embrace a new one.


Sarah Valentine is the author of the memoir When I Was White (St. Martin’s Press 2019). Valentine has taught literature and creative writing at Princeton, UCLA, UC-Riverside, and Northwestern University. She is the recipient Lannan Foundation Writing Residency and Prairie Schooner’s Best Emerging Writer Award. Her work has appeared in Waveform: Twenty-First Essays by WomendiodeThe Chronicle of Higher Education, and more. Valentine holds a Ph.D. in Russian literature from Princeton University.


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