Beacon Press: Mama's Boy, Preacher's Son
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Mama's Boy, Preacher's Son

A Memoir

Author: Kevin Jennings

A powerful memoir about growing up in trailer parks, coming out at Harvard, and fighting for justice in our schools

By age six, Kevin Jennings knew he was going straight to hell. His father, an evangelist preacher, as much as told him so. During the 1960s, Kevin’s family moved from one trailer park in the South to another as his dad fought to hold on to a pulpit. Then, on Kevin’s eighth birthday, his father suffered a fatal heart attack as Kevin stood, helpless, at his side. When he cried at the funeral, Kevin’s older brothers admonished him, “Don’t be a faggot.” The warning was a key lesson. In school, “faggot” became more familiar to Kevin than his own name. Nobody watching the regular torture of Kevin’s schooldays could have anticipated that he would ever want to return to the classroom.

Kevin’s father may have preached damnation, but his mother showed him the road to salvation. Forced to drop out of school at the age of nine, Alice Verna Johnson Jennings fervently believed in the power education held for her children. While working a series of blue-collar jobs to support her family, she struggled with her conservative Appalachian roots when her oldest son married a black woman and her youngest came out. Alice’s story is powerful account of a woman’s triumph over huge obstacles, including her own prejudices.

When he earned a scholarship to Harvard, Kevin finally found acceptance. His decision to become a teacher, however, forced him back into the closet. In the classroom, reliving the anguish of school bigotry, Kevin realized his true vocation. When his students rallied to his defense—and thereby to their own—Kevin worked with them to form the first gay/straight alliance, and he went on to found GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Educational Network, now a national education organization with a presence in all fifty states.

Mama’s Boy, Preacher’s Son weaves humor, drama, and insight into the story of the transformation of a determined Southern woman, the courage of her son in choosing to try to change our world, and the early history of a modern national movement for justice.
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“Kevin Jennings’s moving story takes us from the trailer parks of North Carolina to the halls of Harvard and meetings in the White House—and yet it is the most personal moments he dares to share that speak to our souls and teach the power of education.” —Bob Chase, president emeritus, The National Education Association

“A moving, extremely readable account of an amazing American life. Halfway between Bastard Out of Carolina and Dead Poets Society, this story of an unforgettable mother’s determination that her son get the education she never had, and that son’s desperate attempt to escape his own upbringing, takes us from a Southern trailer park to Harvard Yard, from school bullies to the homophobic headmaster of a New England boarding school. It is also the story of a teacher who finds a way to help the tortured young person he used to be by extending help to a group that all the gay liberation in the world has still not made go away: teenagers who hate themselves because they’re gay. A wonderful book.” —Andrew Holleran, author of Dancer from the Dance: A Novel

“Kevin Jennings’ remarkable memoir is full of unexpected twists and turns. If you want to know what it feels like to grow up a gay boy in a Southern Baptist family, if you want to read about the inner life of a brilliant, deeply conflicted boy, if you want to know how much courage it takes to accept yourself when you have been taught that the Devil was putting thoughts in your head, I recommend that you read Kevin Jennings’ Mama’s Boy, Preacher’s Son. It is an inspiring story of male courage and extraordinary determination.” -Michael Thompson, coauthor of Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys

“Kevin Jennings’ story brought me to tears again and again. Not only because of his loving and lucid account of a journey from bullied-solitary soul to extraordinary teacher and social leader, but because his book stands as a vivid testament to the sacred promise of our Constitution: that each among us—no matter race, sexuality or creed—is to be cherished and protected. Jennings’ courage and compassion is a powerful reminder to us all of what it truly means to be a Citizen.” -Martin Moran, author of The Tricky Part: One Boy’s Fall From Trespass Into Grace

“Kevin Jennings’s Memoir is a potent story, beautifully told, of the daily struggle as well as the love and courage required to maintain pride and live with integrity in the face of deep-seated prejudice.”
-Otis Charles, Episcopal Bishop of Utah, Retired


Review: Genre Magazine - September 1, 2006
“well-crafted wit, pathos and drama aplenty, without drifting into another jaded mockery of dysfunction.”
Review: People - August 28, 2006
“Jennings crosses many Rubicons in this inspiring, power-packed memoir.”
Review: Entertainment Weekly - August 18, 2006
Mama’s Boy distinguishes itself from the glut of me-too coming-out memoirs with equal parts humor and gravitas.”
Review: Booklist - August 1, 2006
“A refreshingly readable memoir.”
Review: Q Syndicate - July 13, 2006
"There are pages in this memoir that will make readers cry."
Review: Kirkus Starred Review - June 1, 2006
"Generous and illuminating."
Review: Publishers Weekly - May 29, 2006
"This rags-to-riches story, about growing up poor and eventually reaching Harvard has bite and pathos…Jennings writes of his journey with graciousness and candor."
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Mama's Boy, Preacher's Son

ISBN: 978-080707146-5
Publication Date: 8/9/2006
Pages: 280
Size:6 x 9 Inches (US)
Price:  $24.95
Format: Cloth
Availability: In stock.
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