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. 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. The ninth of ten children, he 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.
“My uncle, Hammy Bissell, was the first director of scholarships at Exeter, where I was a faculty brat. My dad taught in the History Department. Larry Palmer, my wrestling teammate, was a scholarship kid. As such, Larry and I were (in different ways) outsiders among the other students at the academy. In our lives at school, the townies, the faculty brats, and ‘Hammy’s boys’—as the scholarship kids were called—felt a little alienated. Over time, 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
“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
“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.”—Sonja Livingston, author of Ghostbread
“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. Du Bois Professor of Literature Emeritus, Cornell University
“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
“An intriguing coming-of-age story told from a unique perspective . . . In writing Scholarship Boy, Palmer gave me a peek inside a world I would not have otherwise seen.”—Kristen Green, author of Something Must Be Done About Prince Edward County
“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
“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 . . . 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: A Memoir
Larry I. Palmer holds degrees from Harvard University and Yale Law School, and he spent most of his career at Cornell University as a law professor and university administrator. He is the author of two scholarly works, Law, Medicine, and Social Justice and Endings and Beginnings. Scholarship Boy is his first book for a general audience.