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Marvin V. Arnett

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Pieces from Life's Crazy Quilt
by Marvin V. Arnett   

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Publisher:  In Process Type: 


Copyright:  Feb 14 2000

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Childhood memoir of a Great-Grandmother growing up in Detroit, Michigan during the Great Depression, WWII, and the Race Riot of 1943.

Barnes &

Much has been written about the racism experienced by African-Americans living in the South during the 30's and 40's but little about the racism experienced by their counterparts living in the North. Although the racism experienced by those in the North was subtle, it was just as devastating. In "Pieces from Life's Crazy Quilt," the Author captures the reality of a bygone way of life during a racially turbulent period in a northern city-Detroit, Michigan.
Why did I write this book? Because it is the story of the many African-Americans, from all walks of life, who dedicated their lives to improving the future for their children and for African-American children everywhere. Pieces from Life's Crazy Quilt," is a collection of stories of the people, places and events that prepared a young girl for an unknown future. The University of Nebraska will release a cloth bound version of this memoir in the spring of 2003. For further information on this release, contact author at her email address:


For the next year and a half, peace and quiet reigned between my father and my school. I was in seventh heaven. Two of my most favorite people in the world--my father and my teacher, Miss Reynolds--liked and respected each other. How could anything go wrong? Unfortunately I had forgotten the favorite saying of our resident busybody, Mrs. Hodges. "Bad luck follows good luck like night follows day. Why it's the law of nature," she would say. During the lesson Miss Reynolds used the expression, "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark." When she realized that we did not understand the meaning of the expression, she attempted to explain it.
.....Then with a face illuminated only by a sincere desire to impart knowledge, she uttered those fateful words; "You'll always find a nigger in the woodpile."
I n the silence that followed, THAT WORD echoed and re-echoed around the room.

Professional Reviews

Pieces from Life's Crazy Quilt
Rating ***** by Walter Benefield, AALBC Marvin Sprague says that her mother's favorite quilts to make were what she called, "Crazy Quilts." She defines these quilts as a collection of seemly random pieces of fabric, of various types and qualities combined to make a uniquely designed quilt. Marvin V. Arnett's memoir aptly named, "Pieces from Life's Crazy Quilt," is the quilt-like collections of stories that compose a life. "Pieces from Life's Crazy Quilt" is a delightful read. A coming of age story told through the keen observations of Marvin Sprague, a black growing up in Detroit, MI during the 1930's and 40's. Through Marvin's eyes, we experience the life of a black family and community as they move through the Depression and World War II in a neighborhood on the Westside of Detroit. The memoir features a host of charcters with the Sprague family located in the center. Early in the memoir, in a story entitled, "The Jewel in the Crown," sister Jewel passes away, the result of illness, leaving an empty space in the Sprague family. William junior is a smart kid who likes to read science fiction magazines, the strong and silent type. Gracie Sprague is the picture of charm and beauty. A gifted seamstress, Gracie is a strong woman of faith who not only welds a needle and thread with skill, but first and foremost, Gracie is one of those loveliest of all creatures, she is a mother. Will Sprague senior is the hero. Throughout the memoir, William is fashioned as a sort of Renaissance man having worked as a Bartender, Chef, Carpenter and Chauffeur. His role as neighborhood elder is evident in many of the stories. "Race Man," "The Vote," and "Not by Bread Alone" demonstrates William's innovative way of solving the many problems faced by his family and his community. The collection of stories make their own crazy quilt as you can naturally assume the author intended. In truth "Pieces from Life's Crazy Quilt," are stories within a story. The truth presented in "Pieces from Life's Crazy Quilt" is a common truth shared by all people. Are not we but the result of events and stories that have shaped us into the people we are today! Although the stories are short in length, several deal with strong emotions and significants events. "The Jewel in the Crown," recounts with strong emotions the short life of Jewel. In "What's in a Name?", the origin of Marvin's name is discovered and "Dick Tracy's Not Your Friend" is the story of an accidental shooting that affects the entire neighborhood. The author reveals the first time she felt the desire to tell stories as a writer in "All Things Relative." In "The Gathering Storm," a unique view from with the Detroit Race Riot of 1943 is seen. Lastly, providing lessons with comic relief are stories about the happenings within the "Church of the True Believers." These stories, and several others, provide glimpses into the lives of black folks seen through the eyes of a youth. This first person perspective on people, places and events is sometimes innocent and naive but always honest. Marvin's view into the lives of people living on the Westside of Detroit bears some similarities with Marguerite Johnson's view of life in Arkansas in "I know Why the Caged Bird Sings." Excluding Maya Angelou's lyrical language in her extraordinary autobiography, "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings." "Pieces from Life's Crazy Quilt" places rough times beside humorous times in the crazy quilt that makes up Marvin Sprague's life. The result is an understanding of the lives of black folks that would make Maya Angelou nod in agreement. "Pieces from Life's Crazy Quilt" is based on the author's life.; and this close relation to the author gives the memoir warmth equal to a quality quilt. This work serves as an excellent introduction to an era in the history of black folks that many have not been exposed to firsthand.

A Dynamic Enlightening Read
Rating***** by Tonya Howard, Pieces from Life's Crazy Quilt is symbolic of the Depression and World War II era; her candid visualization makes you think you are living each day with her through the course of this journey. Her style of writing is literary prose at its finest; pure, graceful and crisp. This was an enlightening and refreshing read! Marvin Arnett has done a miraculous job with Pieces from Life's Crazy Quilt.

A Casual Stroll Down Memory Lane
Rating***** by The Rawsistaz Reviewers Imagine yourself sitting in a cozy living room, sipping tea and chatting with your grandmother. This is exactly how you will feel as you read the book Pieces from Life's Crazy Quillt. The book although fictional, is largely based on the experiences and memories of the author herself. Melvin, the main character of the book, like the author, like the author is given a name that is traditionally considered that of a male. (In the revised version of the book to be issued on 1 April 2003 by The University of Nebraska, the author uses her own name--Marvin.) The book takes place in Detroit, Michigan and covers the time period of the 1920's through the early 1940's. It highlights what life was like for African Americans during the often overlooked historical era. What is most refreshing about the book is Melvin's voice. The story is told solely from her point of view as she reminisces about her childhood and family. As she relates various stories about her growing up on Herbert Street living in the Green House, you become so drawn in that as a reader you feel like you are right on the street and are one of the characters. The Church of the True Believers, where Melvin and her family attend, has enough drama to keep the pages turning. In addition to the dram, Arnett has created, or perhaps re-created, a diverse cast of characters, some to be respected and others to be despised. However, through all the drama and through all the characters, important life lessons are learned. If there is any message that stands out in my mind after reading this book it is that all experiences, good or bad, are opportunities to learn and grow. Marvin Arnett tackles any number of tough issues such as love, loss, poverty, wealth, hurt, healing, wisdom, education and the importance of having God in your life. This isn't a Christian Fiction, per se, but it is abundantly clear that part of what helped sustain the Sprague family was their faith in God. It was refreshing seeing a mother and father working hard to support and provide for their family. William Sprague, Melvin' father, was a pillar of strength and wisdom that would climb any mountain for his children. Grace Sprague, Melvin's mother had a quiet and enduring faith, and her kindness was felt throughout the community. Arnett's conversational writing style makes you feel more like you are chatting than reading a book. The characters were so alive that I felt as if I knew them personally. The book is loaded with moral lessons, but never comes across as preachy. This story will make you laugh, make you cry, and even make you want to haul off and punch someone in the nose. This was an excellent effort and I truly look forward to any future works by this author. I highly recommend this book

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Reader Reviews for "Pieces from Life's Crazy Quilt"

Reviewed by Chrissy McVay 3/12/2006
This sounds like an enlightening book that we could all learn from. Should be in school libraries everywhere. If only a 'Crazy Quilt' made from all different pieces of cloth could help us learn to embrace diversity!
Reviewed by hhhhhhh 11/25/2002
Reviewed by Mary Wilson 8/28/2002
Wonderful book, written with so much love. What a courageous family.
Reviewed by jarimorris 7/16/2002
Don't ever stop. Looking foward to picking up your memiors of the times following 1943.

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