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Sonderbooks Book Review of

No Crystal Stair

A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller

by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson

Artwork by R. Gregory Christie


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No Crystal Stair
A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller

by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson
Artwork by R. Gregory Christie

Review posted February 3, 2013.
CarolRhoda Lab, Minneapolis, 2012. 188 pages.
2012 Boston-Globe Horn Book Award Winner for Fiction
2013 Coretta Scott King Author Honor Book

This is a "Documentary Novel." In the Author's Note at the back, Vaunda Micheaux Nelson tells us, "Researching this family history was exciting and challenging, though nonexistent and conflicting information complicated the project. I did my best to tell Lewis's story using facts where I could, filling gaps with informed speculation, making this a work of fiction. My goal was to leave readers with the essence of the man, an understanding of what shaped him, and a picture of how he and his National Memorial African Bookstore influenced a community."

I think she admirably achieved this goal. The book reads like a work of nonfiction, so will be more interesting to kids who like nonfiction. It doesn't read quite like a novel, but the absorbing information may be all the more interesting because it really happened. The author includes photographs and documents and even a copy of the FBI files on Lewis Michaux.

The story is inspiring. Lewis started out as something of the family troublemaker, growing up in his brother the preacher's shadow. And it took awhile for him to find his own calling. Here's where Vaunda Micheaux Nelson has him realizing what he should do:

I keep coming back to the same thing. Knowledge. Our people need to continue on the climb Douglass started. They need to read. I'm talking about books you don't find in just any bookstore. Books for black people, books by black people, books about black people here and all around the world. The so-called Negro needs to hear and learn from the voices of black men and women.

This office would be perfect for a bookstore. My bookstore.

The author takes voices from people all around Lewis Michaux to show how he changed people's lives. Through books.