On Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2017, alumnus of Manhattanville College and co-author of Down the Up Staircase, Bruce Haynes ’82, returned to campus to host a lecture and read from his book that he co-wrote with his wife, Syma Solovitch. The event was held in the West Room of Reid Castle and co-sponsored by the departments of African Studies, English, History & American Studies, and Sociology & Anthropology, and the Office of Alumni Relations. The lecture was engaging and well attended, with around 60 attendees, a mixture of students, faculty, staff, and alumni.
Their book, Down the Up Staircase, tells the story of three generations of a family living in Harlem. The book connects the family’s journey and experiences to the historical and social changes of the time and throughout the century. It also delves into experiences and movements that affected the average African American family in Harlem, like the Great Migration, the Harlem Renaissance, the early civil rights movement, the Black Power movement, and the black middle class.
Haynes’s experience as a professor of sociology at the University of California Davis and senior fellow at Yale University, allowed him to easily analyze his own life and the culture and changes in Harlem through a sociological lens.
The book does not follow the average format of an academic text, but as a mass market publication that is geared to a larger audience. Eric Slater, associate professor of sociology and anthropology, described the book as something that can appeal to many.
“One of the unique things about the book is how the authors synthesize literary technique and sociological analysis to create something of personal and historical interest,” Slater explained.
During the event, Haynes and Solovitch took turns alternating when reading from his book. Each would read and then interject with side notes about Haynes’s family and the people living in Harlem at the time. This was to better in- form the audience who might not be aware of details of Harlem’s culture throughout the 1900s.
Afterwards there was an opportunity for the audience to ask the author questions. A student from Harlem was able to relate Haynes’s experiences to his own. During the discussion, Haynes was better able to explain the complexities of social mobility over the years, especially for a black family. Haynes’s paternal side of his family, had early advances, but the advances did not stick for the following generations. By tying the rise and fall of Harlem Renaissance elites to the rise and fall his own family, Haynes created a text that engages the reader through the compelling, but academic narrative.