NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • “Simmons’s evocative account of her remarkable trajectory from Jim Crow Texas, where she was the youngest of twelve children in a sharecropping family, to the presidencies of Smith College and Brown University shines with tenderness and dignity.”—The New York Times Book Review (Editors’ Choice)
“A riveting work of literature, destined to take its place in the canon of great African American autobiographies.”—Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Harvard University
I was born at a crossroads: a crossroads in history, a crossroads in culture, and a geographical crossroad in North Houston County in East Texas.
Born in 1945, Ruth J. Simmons grew up the twelfth child of sharecroppers. Her first home had no running water, no electricity, no books to read. Yet despite this—or, in her words, because of it—Simmons would become the first Black president of an Ivy League university. The former president of Smith College, Brown University, and Prairie View A&M, Texas’s oldest HBCU, Simmons has inspired generations of students as she herself made history.
In Up Home, Simmons takes us back to Grapeland to show how the people who love us when we are young shape who we become. We meet her caring, tireless mother who managed to feed her large family with an often empty pantry; her father, who refused to let racial and economic injustice crush his youngest daughter’s dreams; the doting brothers and sisters; and the attentive teachers who welcomed Ruth into the classroom, guiding her to a future she could hardly imagine as a child.
From the farmland of East Texas to Houston’s Fifth Ward to New Orleans at the dawn of the civil rights movement, Simmons depicts an era long gone but whose legacies of inequality we still live with today. Written in clear and timeless prose, Up Home is both an origin story set in the segregated South and the uplifting chronicle of a girl whose intellect, grace, and curiosity guide her as she creates a place for herself in the world.
About the Author
Ruth J. Simmons is the former president of Smith College, Brown University, and Prairie View A&M University, Texas’s oldest HBCU, and the former vice provost of Princeton. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Dillard University and her master’s and doctorate from Harvard in Romance languages and literatures. The president of France named her chevalier of the French Legion of Honor and President Biden named her to the White House HBCU Advisory Board. She lives in Texas.
“Honest, intimate and deeply affecting, [Up Home] recalls Anne Moody’s classic memoir, Coming of Age in Mississippi, not just in the obvious biographical parallels but also in terms of its potential impact. This is a book you’ll want to pass on to all the young people in your life, no matter their background, just so they can have a little of Simmons’s wise voice in their heads. I’d urge every educator to assign Up Home to high school students or incoming college freshmen. It’s that good.”—Pamela Paul, The New York Times
“[An] inspiring story . . . a love letter to every person who helped Simmons out of poverty.”—The Washington Post
“The tale of an individual making her way over nearly insurmountable obstacles with the help of determined teachers and mentors. . . Extraordinary.”—The New York Times Book Review
“Simmons tells her story as only she can: simply but eloquently, directly, with a devastating honesty.”—The Dallas Morning News
“Up Home reads like an inverse retelling of Richard Wright’s Native Son. . . . Endearingly candid.”—Texas Monthly
“Extraordinary . . . a tribute to the people who helped [Simmons] leave poverty and find her place in the world.”—Houston Chronicle
“Simmons provides an extensive, engrossing family history of both the land they worked and the people she met along her voyage away from rural Texas to the highest rungs of academia. . . . A declaration of love and the constant journey homeward from a brilliant mind . . . [an] inspiring story.”—Kirkus Reviews
”[A] poignant and inspiring memoir . . . a fiercely memorable debut.”—Publishers Weekly
“A story of dreaming and becoming, of breaking out of what is supposed to be and discovering what can be. Up Home is far more than a record of the path to success of one of the truly great college presidents in the history of American education; it is a riveting work of literature, destined to take its place in the canon of great African American autobiographies. Simmons’s best friend and confidante, Toni Morrison, would be proud!”—Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Harvard University “A love letter to family, to the Black teachers and institutions that loved and inspired Ruth Simmons—people and places that urged her to dream beyond her circumstance and to imagine herself in the most expansive of terms. It is the story of the power of self-creation in community.”—Eddie S. Glaude Jr., New York Times bestselling author of Begin Again
“An ode to powerful mothers and teachers everywhere whose small acts of love and encouragement pave the way for individual success, community pride, and future greatness.”—Tiya Miles, New York Times bestselling author of All That She Carried, winner of the National Book Award
“(A) poignant memoir . . . Up Home recalls a life richly shaped by experiences with languages, literature and mentors that helped Simmons become a person she never expected to be. Her sparkling prose and vibrant storytelling invite readers to accompany her on her journey.”—BookPage