Chasing Me To My Grave: An Artist’s Memoir of the Jim Crow South. By Winfred Rembert, as told to Erin I. Kelly. Forward by Bryan Stevenson. New York: Bloomsbury. Forthcoming August, 2021.
Chasing Me To My Grave tells the remarkable life story of Black American artist Winfred Rembert (1945-2021). Rembert grew up in Cuthbert, Georgia, where he picked cotton as a child. As a teen-ager, he got involved in the civil-rights movement and was arrested in the aftermath of a demonstration. He later broke out of jail, survived a near-lynching, and spent seven years in prison, where he was forced to labor on chain gangs. Following his release, in 1974, he married Patsy Gammage, and they eventually settled in New Haven, Connecticut. At the age of fifty-one, with Patsy’s encouragement, he began carving and painting memories from his youth onto leather, using leather-tooling skills he had learned in prison. I met Rembert in 2015, while I was working on my book, The Limits of Blame. He told me he wanted to share his life story in his own words but needed help writing it. From 2018 to 2020, I visited his home every two weeks or so to interview him. The result is this collaborative memoir, which presents Rembert’s breathtaking body of artwork alongside his story.
- “An Artist on Surviving the Chain Gang.” An excerpt from Chasing Me to My Grave. The New Yorker. May 10, 2021.
- Starred Review. Publisher’s Weekly. May 10, 2021.
- Starred Review. “An Ultimately Uplifting Journey from the Ugliness of Virulant Racism to the Beauty of Art,” Kirkus Reviews. July 1, 2021.
- Starred Review. Booklist. July 1, 2021.
- “The Late Winfred Rembert Documented His Life with Art.” Morning Edition. Debbie Elliott interview with Patsy Rembert and Erin Kelly. National Public Radio. August 11, 2021.
- Starred Review. Bookpage. August 17, 2021.
- The Jimmy Carter Presidential Library. WABE’s Lois Reitzes interviews Patsy Rembert and Erin Kelly. August 17, 2021. Excerpts here.
- “New Haven Artist and Lynching Survivor Shares Life Story in Posthumous Memoir,” The New Haven Register. August 26, 2021.
- “Winfred Rembert: Memoir from Beyond the Grave,” Republican-American. August 28, 2021.
- “Newly Published” New York Times. September 1, 2021.
- “12 Must-Read Books of September.” Chicago Review of Books. September 1, 2021.
- Book Reviews: ‘How the Word is Passed’ by Clint Smith and ‘Chasing Me to My Grave: An Artist’s Memoir of the Jim Crow South’ by Winfred Rembert. The Washington Informer. September 1, 2021.
- “Chasing Me to My Grave – An Indispensable Black Voice.” The Arts Fuse. September 6, 2021.
- “People, Places, and Leather in Chasing Me to My Grave: An Artist’s Memoir of the Jim Crow South,” Chicago Review of Books. September 7, 2021.
- “Hiding in a Tick Mattress: Winfred Rembert’s Escape Up a Georgia Rail Line,” An “Open Book” feature in The Harvard Magazine. September-October 2021.
- “How White Violence Turned a Peaceful Civil Rights Demonstration into Mayhem.” Literary Hub. September 7, 2021.
- “The Escape Artist: Winfred Rembert’s Memoir of Imprisonment and Freedom,” Bookforum. Sept/Oct/Nov 2021.
The Limits of Blame: Rethinking Punishment and Responsibility (Harvard University Press, 2018) Limits of Blame flyer
Faith in the power and righteousness of retribution has taken over the American criminal justice system. Our practice of assigning blame has gone beyond a pragmatic need for protection and a moral need publicly to repudiate harmful acts. It represents a desire for retribution that has come to normalize excessive punishment. The American criminal justice system aligns legal criteria of guilt with moral criteria of blameworthiness, yet many incarcerated people, for example, those who are mentally ill or desperately poor, may not be blameworthy for their criminal acts, even when they are criminally guilty. We should stop exaggerating the moral meaning of criminal guilt. We should aim at reducing crime, when it is serious, rather than imposing retribution on lawbreakers as such. Critical reflection on our culture of blame would help us to refocus our perspective to fit the relevant moral circumstances and legal criteria, and to endorse a humane, appropriately limited, and more productive approach to criminal justice.
- New Yorker article informed by The Limits of Blame
- C. H. Wellman review of The Limits of Blame in NDPR
- Nicola Lacey review of The Limits of Blame in Mind
- Special Issue on The Limits of Blame in Criminal Law and Philosophy:
- Adina Roskies review in Criminal Law and Philosophy
- D. Justin Coates review in Criminal Law and Philosophy
- Costanza Porro in Criminal Law and Philosophy
- David Sussman review in Criminal Justice Ethics
- Leora Katz review in Criminal Law and Criminal Justice Book Reviews
- Stephen Galoob review in the Tulsa Law Review
- Alexandre Abitbol review of The Limits of Blame in Reason Papers
- Article on The Limits of Blame in Tufts Now
Editor of John Rawls, Justice as Fairness: A Restatement. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001.