St. Louis author wins IPPY award forHarlem memoirMay 5, 2012By Linda AustinWhen Terry Mulligan was new to St. Louis, she grew tired of watching her new friends’ eyesgrow big when she said she was from Harlem. The Harlem she knew during the 1950s and ‘60swasn’t full of drug addicts and drunks on doorsteps. She grew up on Sugar Hill, on the top of acliff overlooking a river 600 feet down. Sugar Hill was full of light and space and beauty. It waswhere the sun rose over Harlem.Now, forty years later, Terry (Jean) Baker Mulligan has produced a masterpiece of 1900s Harlemhistory mixed with culture and personal details of the everyday life of a little girl growing up in
the Sugar Hill enclave. "Sugar Hill: Where the Sun Rose Over Harlem" has just won aprestigious 2012 Independent Publishers Book (IPPY) award, taking first place gold in themulticultural nonfiction adult category.The book reads like a who’s who of Black history (with Fidel Castro thrown in) as figures suchas Thurgood Marshall, Reverend Ike and Willie Mays intersected with young Jean’s life. Sheadds the stories of older relatives and transplanted southern relatives to give a sense of Harlemand African-American history before she was born. Mulligan says one of the men IsabelWilkerson profiled in "The Warmth of Other Suns" followed the same path north as Mulligan’sUncle Smitty, even living on the same block."Sugar Hill’s" tone is factual, fitting in well with the history, but the characters are so colorfulthey walk right off the pages. Mulligan can turn a phrase when she wants to, “… if she had saidthe moon was made of chicken fat, I would have given it some thought,” and her feisty, cussingGram doesn’t mince words: “Your new friend is poor white trash and she smells.” Black andwhite photos of family, homes, views, and iconic Harlem buildings of the era give a morevisceral sense of history. Mulligan’s father was one of Cab Calloway’s “boys,” and there’s a shotof him dancing at the Cotton Club. A list of footnotes and a proper index finish off this veryreadable book impressive in its intimate portrayal of life in the ever-changing Harlem.Terry left Harlem as the drug culture began to take over, but returned this spring to fanfare forher book release, noting, “I’ve never seen so many white people in Harlem.” She says manyaffluent blacks are returning to their roots there, too, and housing prices are climbing upward.Harlem is re-inventing itself again.Linda Austin, St. Louis Literature ExaminerLinda Austin is an author and indie publisher, longtime board member of the St. LouisPublishers Association, member of the St. Louis Writers Guild. She keeps an eye on area bookand writer events and the big publishing picture. Contact Linda.