Little Creek Press

Spoke by Coleman

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Coleman has written a moving and thoughtful memoir of his formative years during the tumult of the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movements of the 1960s. An intensely personal journey into the past that offers vital lessons for the future, Spoke combines the intimacy of an autobiography with the drama of an exciting and well-told story all underpinned by the gravity of a serious work of history. The result is a highly readable and incisive work filled with tragedy and triumph, a resonant narrative informed by Coleman s singular life experience and his candor in speaking hard truths. In 1963, Coleman s mother was engaged in the civil rights struggle in Oklahoma, participating in lunch-counter sit-ins and demonstrations and the historic March on Washington. On the bus to Washington she agreed to sell her home in an all-white suburb to a black doctor. This led to her illegal incarceration in a mental institution as a means to stop the sale and silence her continuing activism. Five years later, prompted by the assassination of Martin Luther King, Coleman initiated his own civil disobedience in protest to the Vietnam War. His act of defiance serendipitously created an opportunity to free his mother. Coleman s experiences, and those of his mother, provide a lens through which to view one of the most tumultuous decades of the twentieth century. Drawing on his memory, his mother s written reflections, interviews with contemporaries, and newly available documents, Coleman recounts a tale that is by turns harrowing and inspiring. The book takes readers from the lunch-counter sit-ins of the early 1960s to the draft-board raids later that same decade; from Martin Luther King s 1963 March on Washington to the 1968 DC Mobilization Against the War; from the nightmarish conditions of mid-century state mental institutions to the soul-less sterility of the federal prison system; from the advent of women s lib to the dawn of the sexual revolution. Coleman reflects on his mother s remarkable courage, on his country s tangled history and on the stark moral choices faced by his mother, himself and their two generations.


A big-hearted, beautifully detailed story, chronicling how one mother and son grew closer amid unspeakable tragedy and the upheaval of a nation. Coleman's story is an important footnote to American history, one that highlights how the pursuit of justice--even amid tragedy and in the face of evil--can transform lives in profound and powerful ways. --Dean Bakopoulos, author of My American Unhappiness

A mother and son endure tragedy, adversity and injustice, and draw on deep personal strength, in this weighty, evocative memoir. Joe Gilchrist is 10 years old when his mother, Rosie, is burned in a kitchen blaze in their suburban Oklahoma home. Whether it was an accident or an attempted suicide is never spoken aloud. Horribly disfigured and societally shunned, Rosie is befriended by African-American civil rights activists and sees Martin Luther King, Jr. speak in Washington, D.C.. Joe's abusive father has her committed to a mental institution, basing his claim of instability in part on her association with black people. Later, inspired by her fortitude, Joe conscientiously refuses induction into the Vietnam War, earning him an indictment and jail. In and out of prison during the war, Joe becomes an outspoken national advocate of draft resistance. Meanwhile, he remains close to his mother and mixes with a broad, memorable cast of family, friends, inmates, resisters and acquaintances. Some support his anti-war efforts, others distance themselves in response to it. The story, which is a true one, delves deeply into the nature of relationships and into formidable questions such as the culpabilty of those who see wrongs and do nothing to right them. It also draws a line between those who spoke out against the Vietnam War and took non-violent action such as destroying draftee files, and those who espoused violence; the author condemns the latter. Ultimately, Joe and Rosie criss-cross the country, from Oklahoma to Cornell University in upstate New York to New York City. Reflecting four decades after his mother's 1971 death, Joe, whose name is now Coleman, clearly sees his life choices, including accepting that he is gay, as rooted in Rosie's remarkable example. The book's trajectory, which shifts back and forth between significant periods in Joe's life, is skillfully plotted with a course that is not always chronological but is always logical. Throughout, Joe and Rosie remain solidly at the book's center. Skillfully penned to be of equal interest to those who lived though and who were born after Vietnam. And a compelling witness to a definitive era, richly compounded in complexity by true-life family sorrow and triumph. --Karyn L. Saemann, Inkspots, Inc.

About the Author

Coleman is a writer, actor and producer. He is co-founder (with Dean Bakopoulos) of PEDDLER CREEK - an arts organization offering writing workshops, readings and theatrical productions. As a playwright, he has adapted numerous popular works for performance, including adaptations of A Christmas Carol, A Child's Christmas in Wales, The Creeping Man and The Diary of William Stephens and more than thirty of Edgar Allan Poe's short stories. His full-length dark comedy, Class, opened Alley Stage in 2007, and Faux Poe - a collection of fourteen short plays inspired by Poe - was produced in 2009 and 2010. Coleman is a member of the Dramatists Guild of America, Playwrights Ink of Madison, and a board member of the Council for Wisconsin Writers. He was awarded a Literary Artist Fellowship in 2009 by the Wisconsin Arts Board, and WAB Artist-Community Collaboration Grants in 2007 and 2009.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Little Creek Press. A Division of Kristin Mitchell Design, LLC; First edition (August 19, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0989643107
  • ISBN-13: 978-0989643108
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces