Posted by: Tom Owen | August 29, 2009

Black Ice (1992) – Lorene Cary, SPS 1974

Black Ice

Biographical Notes
Lorene Cary is a senior lecturer in creative writing at the University of Pennsylvania.  In 1998 she was awarded the Provost’s Award for Distinguished teaching at the University.

Cary is the founder of the non-profit organization Art Sanctuary.  Located in an historic North Philadelphia church, Art Sanctuary brings prominent members of the black community to give lectures and performances.

Cary has received the Philadelphia Historical Society Founder’s Medal for History in Culture and the prestigious Philadelphia Award.

Along with her husband and two daughters, Cary lives in Philadelphia.

Summary
Black Ice is both a coming-of-age story and an intimate treatment of race and gender in modern America.

In the Autumn 1971 Alumni Horae, the Director of Admissions Sanford R. Sistare wrote:  “It seems fair to say that St. Paul’s seeks a representative group from all parts of the country and the world, as well as from the various minorities in the country. Each of the students contributes to St. Paul’s, to the educations of those in the School, and the School, in turn, contributes to their growth as human beings.”

The 1970’s at St. Paul’s was the dawn of a new era.  The first girls arrived in January of 1971, and there was a steadily increasing minority population.  As Sistare wrote, these efforts served to further the education of all the students at the school.

Lorene Cary was a key part of these early days of diversification.  A smart and passionate black student from Philadelphia, she was given the chance to study at St. Paul’s.  At first, Cary was unwilling to leave her tight-knit community, but she soon viewed the opportunity as a challenge – could she make a name for herself at this ancient institution?  She states, “I hadn’t come to St. Paul’s to survive, I had come to turn it out.”

Upon entering the school, vulnerability and internal conflicts almost overwhelm her.  For example, would she further herself (and by extension, the black community) by following all the rules and achieving academic honors?  Or would she make a more powerful statement by refusing to live by the standards of the school?  Can she trust the kindness of her white teachers and colleagues, or are they merely putting on a show?  Did she come to St. Paul’s because of her strengths or because the school wanted to try something new?

Cary starts to feel like an outsider from both the white establishment and her urban community.  She is thankful for the educational opportunities her parents never had, but those gifts also drive a wedge between her and her family.  Cary begins socializing almost exclusively with other black students at the school, but her candidacy for student council representative becomes a problem with her friends.   How does she stay true to her race, and why does she have to choose between two very different sides?

Black Ice deals with conflicting adolescent emotions as well as issues regarding gender and race that are prevalent in today’s society.  The author is easy to identify with and her book is very insightful.

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