Open House Of Family, Friends, Food, Piano Lessons, and the Search for a Room of My Own

Patricia J. Williams




Trade Paperback

272 Pages



Request Desk Copy Request Exam Copy
In this book, columnist, activist, and author Williams shares her extraordinarily frank views on the whole spectrum of contemporary American culture. She relates stories about the many facets of her life—as a lawyer, scholar, writer, African American, descendant of slaves, mother, and single woman (aged fifty-something)—all of them told with her trademark wit and subtle irony.

Williams tells us of her great-aunt Mary, who crossed the color line one day while boarding a train; about her best white friend, who believes that the only thing standing between the author and an eligible husband is a makeover; about the day she and her family learned how to eat watermelon without fear of racial judgment; and about why she is fascinated by Oprah. Then there is the delectable tale of how Williams decided to take up the piano when she turned fifty, and was soon charging through Beethoven rondos on her own internal funky-chicken time. She also tackles serious subjects, such as cloning, the legacy of slavery, and privacy issues in the cyber age, all with her disarming humor and insight.


Praise for Open House

"[A] provocative new book."—Evelyn C. White, The Washington Post

"From one of our great theorists of race and the law comes this lovely and personal book. But this is no sweet little romp through Patricia Williams's family photos. Rather, she manages to write about Oprah, a manicure, and her Aunt Mary who passed as white (among countless other topics) with both warmth and incisiveness. No one does this kind of essay writing—melding private and public, personal and political—with the grace or critical acuity of Patricia Williams."—Henry Louis Gates, Jr., author of Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Man

"Open House has the freewheeling energy of a private diary that has been shaped by the focused thoughtfulness of a very public-minded soul."—Elle
"One of the most appealing voices ever to take up the discussion of modern social and cultural issues . . . All scholars should think like this."—The Arizona Republic
"Williams's down-to-earth storytelling style, peppered with humor, makes her witty and insightful points accessible and entertaining."—Black Issues Book Review
"Williams writes about timely subjects in a timeless way, in a voice that is both personal and objective. She is the rare writer who can be trusted with both our minds and our hearts."—Gloria Steinem

"In Open House, Williams again exhibits her singular skill in transforming life's problems, perils, and possibilities into an incandescence of understanding."—Derrick Bell, author of Silent Covenants

"Open House is an open sesame to a storehouse of rich riffs on subjects as varied as eccentric aunts, genetic engineering, lobster, cappuccino machines, and the politics of watermelon. Spending time with Patricia Williams in this provocative, gorgeously written collection of essays is like sitting on the porch with a tall iced tea and the smartest person you know."—Letty Cottin Pogrebin, author of Three Daughters

"From the intellectual powerhouse who brought us The Alchemy of Race and Rights comes a delightful book that could well be called 'The Alchemy of Passion and Purpose.' This book is a treat. A real bonbon for the brain."—Veronica Chambers, author of When Did You Stop Loving Me?

"Open House is an astonishingly wise and important book. Williams possesses a rare gift: the ability to see the big picture in the details of everyday life. Her graceful and hopeful observations, tempered by irony and wit, tell us much about our nation in this troubled time."—Maurice Berger, author of White Lies: Race and the Myths of Whiteness

"Legal scholar and Nation columnist Williams offers a stimulating mix of reminiscences and finely honed arguments as she tries to answer the question a friend once posed: Who is the one person she could never be? Like most of her writings, this is fundamentally a work of serious intent, even though the illustrative anecdotes are often charming as well as apt."—Kirkus Reviews

"With a résumé that includes degrees from Wellesley and Harvard Law School, a law professorship at Columbia, a column in the Nation, and a trio of books, Williams would seem to have enough material to fill several volumes of memoirs. In this thought-provoking, unconventional one, she combines family history with discourses on everything from race, class, and slavery's legacy to why she likes O Magazine. One chapter, 'The Kitchen,' begins with an account of buying herself a cappuccino maker, moves to a consideration of homelessness in New York City, continues on to detail her father's heritage, segues to thoughts on why African-Americans give their children unusual names, returns to cappuccino and her sophisticated godmother, makes its way around to trying to cook a turkey, and on from there to other food anecdotes and a description of sharing cinnamon toast and steamed milk with her young son. Williams skillfully integrates her probing analyses of social and political issues with riffs on such topics as turning 50 and Michael Jackson's 'carving up his face like a paper doily' to form a fluid whole. The book's most affecting parts are the rich, loving stories about Williams's family, from those born into slavery to a grandfather who graduated from Meharry Medical College in 1907."—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt

Patricia J. Williams, a recipient of the MacArthur "genius" award, is a columnist ("Diary of a Mad Lawyer," The Nation), and a professor of law at Columbia University. Her previous books are Seeing a Color-Blind Future, The Alchemy of Race and Rights, and The Rooster's Egg. She contributes regularly to Ms. and The Village Voice.
Read the full excerpt


  • Patricia J. Williams

  • Patricia J. Williams, a recipient of the MacArthur "genius" award, is a columnist ("Dairy of a Mad Lawyer," The Nation) and a professor of law at Columbia University. Her previous books include Seeing a Color-Blind Future, The Alchemy of Race and Rights, and The Rooster's Egg. Williams contributes regularly to Ms. and The Village Voice.
  • Patricia J. Williams Copyright Gasper Tringale