Tracing the California Legacy of In the Country of Women

Riverside author Susan Straight writes a book to remind her daughters where they came from.

Susan Straight’s new memoir In the Country of Women offers a valuable social history and a personal narrative that reads like a love song to America and indomitable women.

In inland Southern California, near the desert and the Mexican border, Straight, a self-proclaimed book nerd, and Dwayne Sims, an African American basketball player, started dating in high school. After college, they married and drove to Amherst, Massachusetts, where Straight met her teacher and mentor, James Baldwin, who encouraged her to write. Once back in Riverside, at driveway barbecues and fish fries with the large, close-knit Sims family, Straight―and eventually her three daughters―heard for decades the stories of Dwayne’s female ancestors. Some women escaped violence in post-slavery Tennessee, some escaped murder in Jim Crow Mississippi, and some fled abusive men. Straight’s mother-in-law, Alberta Sims, is the descendant at the heart of this memoir. Susan’s family, too, reflects on the hardship and resilience of women pushing onward―from Switzerland, Canada, and the Colorado Rockies to California.

Madeline Brand of KCRW’s Press Play recently sat down with Straight to discuss the book and her connection to the six generations of women she chronicles. You can listen here.  

Photo credit of Susan: Felisha Carrasco

More Stories