Books

 

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.

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.

Editor of John Rawls,  Justice as Fairness: A Restatement. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001.