Patton, Stacey 1978–
Patton, Stacey 1978–
Born 1978. Education: New York University, B.A., 2001. Hobbies and other interests: Playing basketball.
Home—NY. Office—Montclair State University, Montclair, NJ 07043. E-mail—[email protected]
Journalist, editor, and author. N.A.A.C.P. Legal and Educational Defense Fund, New York, NY, writer and editor. Formerly worked as a journalist for the Baltimore Sun and the Washington Post; Montclair State University, Montclair, NJ, former adjunct professor of history.
That Mean Old Yesterday (memoir), Atria Books (New York, NY), 2007.
Stacey Patton's memoir That Mean Old Yesterday links the story of her own abuse at the hands of her adoptive parents with the general history of violence in the African American community. As a very young child, Stacey was put in foster care. She was too young to understand that the home she lived in was not her "real" home. At the age of five, she learned this abruptly when she was adopted by a New Jersey couple. Stacey's adoptive parents were middleclass African Americans, unable to have a biological child of their own. While they appeared to be model parents throughout the adoption process, their demeanor changed drastically once Stacey came home with them for good. Myrtle, her new mother, began almost immediately to beat, whip, and otherwise terrify and harm Stacey. Myrtle's husband, whom Patton refers to as "G," was a passive man who pretended not to know about his wife's abusive treatment of their child. When Stacey entered school, she found that no adults there would help her either, even if they clearly understood that she was being regularly beaten. She finally became so desperate that she plotted to kill her parents, but after bungling that plan, she realized she must take another course; she ran away from home. Eventually, Stacey was able to fight the child-welfare system in New Jersey and be declared a ward of the state, while attending an elite boarding school. Her story is "a compelling look at dysfunctional families and the will to survive," commented Vanessa Bush in Booklist.
Patton's story is much more than a personal memoir. She alternates her own memories of violence and repression with chapters detailing the cruel methods used to keep slaves in a state of submission in the antebellum American South. She analyzes the ways her adoptive parents' deep Pentecostal faith was used to justify the harsh methods used in her upbringing and questions the place of violence in African American culture as a whole. Patton believes that because violence was such a large part of the fabric of life for African Americans in the days of slavery, it continues to be perpetuated within African American culture today. Then, as now, it was believed that if African American mothers did not teach their children to be docile and submissive, the lesson would be taught much more violently by white authority figures. Her assertions that a majority of African American mothers are abusive to their children, and that this is accepted and supported by the African American community at large, are controversial. In an interview for Urbanite, Patton said: "I … expected to get a lot of backlash from churchfolk, because I implicate black ministers who get up there and say, ‘Spare the rod and spoil the child.’ They are aggressively—perhaps unconsciously—aiding and abetting in a system of devaluation of black children when they tell parents to beat their kids. And they use the Scripture in the wrong way. The rod is a walking stick. It's about guidance and direction. Don't pick it up and beat your kid over their head with it." A Kirkus Reviews writer stated that Patton's tale is an "inspiring memoir of survival" as well as "a well-informed and startling take on violence and racism in America."
Patton told CA: "I first became interested in writing when I was a child. My adoptive parents and many of the other adults in my life lived by the credo that a child should ‘be seen and unheard.’ I was never allowed to participate in adult conversation, to express my opinion, or to have any kind of voice. So I would steal away to my bedroom and write down my thoughts in a little notebook. I was also an avid reader as young girl. Stepping into the literary worlds of others revealed so many possibilities for me. I knew then that there was a bigger world full of more interesting and intelligent people. To liberate myself and to learn how to navigate the big world, I knew that I needed to be expand my mind and my ability to be articulate and creative.
"The powerless, the voiceless, and all those folks pushed to the margins of American life influence my work. They inspire me to tell the raw truth as honestly as I can. They motivate me to seek justice, to tear down myths, to incite controversy, and to challenge old ideas and habits.
"I wouldn't say that I have a real writing process. I am terribly undisciplined and I am a horrible procrastinator. I spend most days thinking about what I'm going to write before I even pick up a pen. When I do finally get to work I always write in longhand because doing so allows me to have a different kind of relationship with my words than I do when sitting upright and typing them on a computer screen. I must have a certain kind of ink pen and I must use recycled paper without lines. I write anywhere: in the tub, on the subway, in cafes or in a messy office surrounded by the chaos of my squawking parrot and whining wire-haired dachshund.
"I do believe in continuous writing. A piece is never done, even when it has been published. So first I regurgitate my soul onto the pages and then I take a nap, or several naps. When I awake I revisit what is sometimes a messy composition and then clean it up. I will read it over and tweak the piece several times before sending it to my agent or editor. Once I'm finished with the piece and it is out of my hands, I never look at it again. I simply move on to the next thing.
"I've learned that writing can be both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because it has the power to heal, redeem and liberate. A curse because it is a lonely and sometimes painful process. And most of all, it is addictive.
"As a first-time author I'm pleased with my first work. I've gotten a great deal of positive feedback from a wide spectrum of readers. It's great to know that I have the power to touch the lives of thousands, potentially millions of strangers. Writing my first book helped me grow up and continue to evolve.
"I hope that my work will empower young people, especially abused children, foster kids, and any child dealing with the painful realities of growing up challenged. I also hope that my work will teach adults how important it is to value all youth everywhere. What we do to them, we do to the future."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Patton, Stacey, That Mean Old Yesterday, 2007.
Booklist, September 15, 2007, Vanessa Bush, review of That Mean Old Yesterday, p. 8.
Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 2007, review of That Mean Old Yesterday.
Library Journal, October 1, 2007, Edward K. Owusu-Ansah, review of That Mean Old Yesterday, p. 72.
Publishers Weekly, July 16, 2007, review of That Mean Old Yesterday, p. 156.
Scoop Alumni Newsletter,http://journalism.nyu.edu/ (September, 2007), Melissa Saks, interview with Stacey Patton.
Stacey Patton's Home Page,http://www.staceypatton.com (June 17, 2008).
Urbanite,http://www.urbanitebaltimore.com/ (June 17, 2008), Sondra Guttman, review of That Mean Old Yesterday.