Allyson Hobbs’ A Chosen Exile makes summer reading lists

Allyson Hobbs
Allyson Hobbs

A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life, written by historian ALLYSON HOBBS, made it to the 2017 summer reading lists of Harvard University Press and The Paris Review.

The 2014 book examines the phenomenon of racial passing, which is an intentional attempt by a person to assume a different racial identity, in the United States from the late 18th century to the present. Hobbs was inspired by a story her aunt told her about a distant cousin who passed as a white woman in the 1940s.

“Necessarily, Hobbs writes, passing involves erasure: gradations gone, subtleties of color and culture reduced to black and white,” wrote Julie Orringer in The Paris Review. “What’s lost in the process: families and friends, a sense of belonging. A Chosen Exile illuminates those losses with acuity, rigor and compassion.”

Hobbs’ cousin, who grew up on the South Side of Chicago, was light skinned and was forced by her mother to leave home and pass for white in Los Angeles. The cousin married a white man and raised children unaware of her heritage. She was unable to visit her dying father for fear of her secret being revealed.

The book, Hobbs’ first, won the 2015 Frederick Jackson Turner Prize for best first book in American history and the 2015 Lawrence Levin Prize for best book in American cultural history.

Hobbs is now working on her second book, tentatively titled Far From Sanctuary: African American Journeys and the Road to Civil Rights. The work examines the lives and experiences of black drivers who traveled across the U.S. during the early- to mid-20th century, when businesses routinely refused to serve African Americans.