Dawn Turner grew up with her sister, Kim, and best friend, Debra, in a historically Black neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago in a “bright and shiny, immaculate private complex,” but right across the street from where she lived, there was a housing project that was deteriorating.
“You could see the difference in the lives, I mean just difference in the communities, that were just across the street but in the lives of the people,” Turner said. “So, a lot of times we try to, or we just think ‘Oh, that person is just inherently bad,’ but clearly, there are forces that are beyond just somebody.”
Turner, an award-winning author, and journalist, gave a talk about her memoir, “Three Girls From Bronzeville” on Oct. 26 in the Founders Lounge, to give people who had read the memoir an opportunity to “go behind the scenes.”
Andrea Krieg, assistant professor of criminal justice, asked Turner questions about her inspiration for the book, her writing process, and different parts of the book.
Turner wanted readers to take away a few universal themes from her memoir.
“I want readers to see this as a story with a lot of universal themes centering on transcendence, grit, resilience, and second chances regarding who gets them and who doesn’t, who makes the most of them, and the people who might squander them,” Turner said.
Turner’s memoir follows the story of herself, Kim, and Debra, who were coming of age in the afterglow of the Civil Rights Movement.
According to Turner, their parents viewed them as having opportunities that had been denied generations of Black people and envisioned that they would, “partake in every aspect of the American dream,” and Turner wanted to investigate why each of them went down very different paths.
“When that [the American dream] didn’t happen for my sister and my best friend, I wanted to understand why, and so that’s when I started to go back and look at our past,” Turner said.
Turner continued, “And I am a journalist, so I didn’t want to just do it as a memoirist. I didn’t want to rely solely on my memory because memories are faulty, so I, as a journalist, I did what I do best — I talk to people, I interview them, I looked at documents.”In her lecture, Turner emphasized that she wanted to paint a complex picture of herself, Kim, and Debra.
Turner also wanted to tell an engaging story that highlighted the idea that people never know where they’re going to end up.
“We all know people whose path diverged from our own or even their own personal trajectories changed, and they landed in a place where they had no idea they would be, and that’s one of those universal themes in terms of the story,” Turner said.
She noted that sometimes tragic or traumatic events happen that can change one’s life and the lives of those they love.
“The reality is is that we all make bad choices, and there are different degrees of bad — but we all have to at some point make amends or ask someone for forgiveness,” Turner said. “And then sometimes the reason why we don’t have these cataclysmic slides is because of grace or something far bigger than ourselves, and that’s another thing I was hoping would come from the book.”
In addition, Turner wanted to talk about the complexities of “life,” “community,” and “situations” and paint a more complete picture of Bronzeville.
“I wanted to talk about our complicated, complex community on the South Side of Chicagoland just give it more depth and get people to understand,” Turner said. “You know, when we hear the South Side, you know, it’s such a loaded phrase, and it means so many different things to different people, but I wanted to show a different version of that.”