Pieces from Life's Crazy Quilt


Pieces from Life's Crazy Quilt

Marvin V. Arnett

American Lives Series

200 pages


April 2008


$14.95 Add to Cart

About the Book

Part memoir and part urban social history, Pieces from Life’s Crazy Quilt is an African American woman’s personal account of her life during a racially turbulent period in a northern American city. Raised in a black neighborhood in urban Detroit, Marvin V. Arnett begins her book with her birth during the Great Depression, and ends with the infamous Detroit race riot of 1943. Arnett’s close observations and attention to the details of her neighborhood and the complex adult relationships around her make this an understated yet powerful story of witness.
Like the idiosyncratic pieces of a crazy quilt, each chapter functions alone but takes on particular resonance when considered with the whole. Choreographed as one-act plays, each chapter invites the reader into the life of the Sprague family and their neighbors during the years after the Ford Motor Company closed their Detroit plants. Arnett tells the story of her childhood with subversive allusions to the Victorian-era coming-of-age stories she consumed while growing up and the moral lessons she absorbed in such readings but could not reconcile with her own experience.

Author Bio

Marvin V. Arnett is a retired manager who worked in the federal service for more than twenty-five years and is a former vice president of the National Organization of Blacks in Government. Arnett is a member of The Society of Midland Authors. She lives in Southfield, Michigan, where she lectures and tutors.


“In this moving memoir, Arnett relates her experiences as a young African American in urban Detroit during the 1930s and 1940s. . . . Librarians everywhere will smile as they read of her ‘love affair’ with her adored Lathrop Library.”—Library Journal

“Arnett writes poignantly of growing up in Detroit during the Depression, when families of various races shared neighborhoods and meager resources even as they suffered occasional racial and ethnic discord. . . . Her memories primarily portray a sweeter time, despite its economic strife.”—Booklist

“Marvin Arnett’s book captures in a vivid, readable, and highly personal way the reality of a time, place, and way of life that is gone forever. It is a real history as it was lived.”—Professor William Linn, Humanities Department, University of Michigan, Dearborn

“Arnett narrates her experiences with quiet dignity and faith. Her optimism and strength of spirit are qualities we don’t see often enough in contemporary memoir.”—Michael Steinberg, founding editor of Fourth Genre

Pieces from Life’s Crazy Quilt places rough times beside humorous times, and the result is an understanding of the lives of black folks that would make Maya Angelou nod in agreement. . . . [It’s] a delightful read—a coming-of-age story told through the keen observations of Marvin Sprague, a black girl growing up in Detroit, Michigan, during the 1930s and 40s.”—Walter Benefield, African American Literature Book Club, Brooklyn, New York

"In Pieces from Life's Crazy Quilt, Marvin Arnett proves to be a noteworthy memorist as she takes us through an often-forgotten part of Detroit's past. With her able assistance, we are introduced to sometimes quirky, but always memorable groups and individuals, including her own intact family, who gave the city its vibrancy and taught its children how to survive and even thrive despite the racism and tension that permeated the 1930s and 40s."—Deborah Smith Pollard, Director of African/African American Studies Program at the University of Michigan–Dearborn

"Pieces from Life's Crazy Quilt is symbolic of the Depression and World War II era. [Arnett's] candid visualization makes you think you are living each day with her through the course of her journey. . . . Her style of writing is literary prose at its finest—pure, graceful, and crisp. This is an enlightening and refreshing read! Marvin Arnett has done a miraculous job with Pieces from Life's Crazy Quilt."—Tonya Howard, Reviewer, Sister Divas Book Club, Richmond, Virginia

"Growing up in a northern city during the Depression years, the author describes her schooling, her love of libraries, the death of her sister, her relationship with her brother and the many adults that impacted her life. Libraries everywhere should have this book."—Lauretta Pierce, writer for The Literary World, Highlands Ranch, Colorado

"An extraordinarily insightful account of urban America in the 1930s and 40s through the eyes of a young African-American girl. It is a triumph of the human spirit and an unforgettable journey. Ms. Arnett's account of the era eclipses all others in memory."—Marie Ann Poplawski, FEW Mentor Coordinator for Alternative for Girls, Detroit, Michigan

"Pieces from Life's Crazy Quilt will make you laugh, cry, and stand up and cheer!"—Kathy Swartz, President, Kathy's Happy Organs, Inc., Cincinnati, Ohio

Table of Contents

My Mother's Quilts
In My Father's House
The Jewel in the Crown
After the Fall
The Good Reverend
My Father vs. the Church of the True Believers
Take from No Bird Her Song
The Boys of Summer
To Thine Own Self Be True
Miss Lila's Place
My Brother and the Katzenjammer Kids
What's in a Name?
The Race Man
Dick Tracy's Not Your Friend
The Memorial
Not by Bread Alone
1300 Beaubien
Too Much of a Good Thing
The Red-and-Black Chinchilla Coat
When Your Gods Have Feet of Clay
The Great Feet Washings
The Vote
Sophisticated Lady
Greater Love Has No Man
The Color of Color
Mister Sandman
That Lying Wonder
All Things Relative
The Gathering Storm
A New Day


Selected by the American Library Association as one of the "Best of the Best" books published by university presses.