"Palmer was fourteen years old in September 1958 when he made the unlikely journey alone by train to Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire. It is impossible to read this boy’s story―‘ninth child of ten, and the sixth of seven sons’―without feeling the loneliness of that first passage away from home―a black boy crossing into a bastion of white privilege―and the scale of the transformation that awaited him."―Carrie Brown, author of The Stargazer's Sister
In 1958, fourteen-year-old Larry Palmer left his parents and nine siblings at home in St. Louis and boarded a train to attend Phillips Exeter Academy (then an all boys’ school) on full scholarship. In Scholarship Boy Palmer reflects on his experiences as a young black boy growing up far from home, learning to fit into a white world without becoming estranged from his closely-knit family.
Palmer delves back into the early years of his childhood, and at times all the way to his family’s past in rural Arkansas before he was born, and brings the reader up to his undergraduate years at Harvard and his father’s death while he attended Yale Law School in the 1960s. The ninth of ten children, he writes about the delicate, complex balances within the family and illustrates the ways his sibling relationships shaped him as he was also being molded by his elite education. Palmer's journey from being the “next-to-the-baby” of his family into adulthood reveals the personal and often hidden costs of cultural migration.
"Absorbing, informative, insightful."—Midwest Book Review
"My friendship with Larry has been among the most enduring of my Exeter friendships, but—before I read his memoir of social and racial dislocation—I never knew the story that unfolded in the home Larry left when he came to Exeter. Larry’s remarkable family story gives me a deeper appreciation of someone I met as a teenager and have known all my life. As a teammate and a friend, I always loved Larry. Now I understand him more."—John Irving
“Larry Palmer’s Scholarship Boy is a poignant exploration of family, longing, and cultural disorientation, seen through the eyes of an African American teenager sent to live and study at a prestigious New England prep school in the 1950s. This absorbing story reminds us that the questions of race and identity we wrestle with today are nothing new, and progress, when it comes at all, often comes at a snail’s pace.”—Dinty W. Moore, author of Between Panic & Desire
“Near the end of Larry Palmer’s fine memoir Scholarship Boy his family tries to assemble for a family portrait. The picture is difficult to compose: the family members are moving hither and yon, reassembling in different configurations, struggling to honor the intricacies that govern the Palmer clan. And they are a rich and complex family, with Lear-like grand personalities. Scholarship Boy is also a book about a very brilliant young man who went to Phillips Exeter, Harvard College, and Yale Law School. It is a tale of his loneliness, his desire to honor his parents’ dictates, his difficulty in living in two worlds, and his ability, thank goodness, to find mentors, institutions, and friends to sustain him. It is also a very poignant narrative, full of pathos and love, about one family’s participation in recent African American history, including segregation, school integration, and dreams fulfilled and nullified. Honest, gracefully written, and uncompromisingly vulnerable, Larry Palmer’s book is unceremoniously generous. Palmer does not grandstand: He is never simply this or that. He is, in the best sense, simply himself: A man trying to stand in a furious whirlwind.” —Kenneth A. McClane, W.E.B. DuBois Professor of Literature Emeritus, Cornell University
“On the surface, this is the story of a black boy’s adventure of finding his way in the all-white, blazers, ties and sports world of an all-boys boarding school in the 1950s. Its heart, however, is the family this boy comes from. As the next to the youngest of ten, it was the older brothers and sisters who gave this scholarship boy the chops to navigate the treacherous waters of an alien world with aplomb and make the best of his opportunities. What an apt tribute that each of them gets to step into the limelight of this luminous coming-of-age memoir.”—Annette Gendler, author of Jumping Over Shadows and How to Write Compelling Stories from Family History
“Larry I. Palmer’s forthright and tender book brings to mind William Faulkner’s assertion that all good writing grows from ‘the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself.’ During many of his formative years, the narrator straddles two worlds—the world of his large, ‘loving but chaotic’ and economically strapped family back home and the elite world that scholarships to Exeter, and later to Harvard and Yale, offer him. Deaths loom large on these pages: the deaths of his parents and of his ‘two mythical brothers’—one who died as a toddler and one who disappeared for twenty years, returning briefly only to disappear again. And though Palmer’s story expands to include the larger world of racial, economic, gender, and educational challenges facing a changing nation, it’s clear that, as the narrator comes to understand, ‘those nine siblings—and my parents—are a part of who I am. They are my story.’ And what a moving, enlightening story it is, a generous gift to us, his lucky readers.”—Rebecca McClanahan, author of The Tribal Knot and In the Key of New York City
“Marked by moments of profound generosity and isolation, Scholarship Boy tells the story of race, family, and possibility in one boy’s life, while contemplating what’s left behind when one journeys between worlds . . . Larry Palmer portrays his people and places with astonishing reverence and care. Like his own memory of slow-dancing with his sister on Maple Avenue, Palmer’s exquisitely rendered world will stay with you long after you turn the final page.”—Sonja Livingston, author of Ghostbread
“Larry Palmer’s moving account of his journey from his African American roots in St. Louis to the halls of a New England prep school and eventually to Yale Law School during the turbulent decade of the 1960s is a lesson in the power of one man’s intellect and perseverance, and a reminder of the powerful ties—though family, race, and history—that bind us to our past, as well as the difficult reckoning with the past that the future demands. Palmer was fourteen years old in September 1958 when he made the unlikely journey alone by train to Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire. It is impossible to read this boy’s story—‘ninth child of ten, and the sixth of seven sons’—without feeling the loneliness of that first passage away from home—a black boy crossing into a bastion of white privilege—and the scale of the transformation that awaited him. Yet Palmer was, it seems, already the man he would one day become. With clear-eyed and wrenching candor, he charts his childhood in St. Louis in the complex web of his family, with its privations and fears and fierce ambitions, and the distance he finally travels to recognize at last what poet Philp Larkin called ‘love’s austere and lonely offices.’ Scholarship Boy stands for the struggle of any human being to transcend what history has set forth for him and how to carry with him the necessary weight of the best and worst of his past.”—Carrie Brown, author of The Stargazer's Sister