My books

When We Were Young in Africa: 1948-1960

Culicidae Press 2015

“Part of the legacy of Carol Polsgrove’s childhood is a sense of being between worlds, clearly not African but not fitting in the United States either. Nor is she at home in the evangelizing Christianity of her parents. But in this memoir, brimming with the sounds and smells, the voices and spirits of over sixty years ago, Polsgrove comes to see the unity that links the two continents of her life and, in doing so, to embrace her becoming as it shapes her ongoing.

“When We Were Young in Africa is not just recollection but examination —always thoughtful, often funny, wrestling with issues of racism and social justice, the larger history of which her childhood is a part. Don’t miss it!”

–George Ella Lyon, Kentucky Poet Laureate (2015-2016), author of Many-Storied House and co-author of Voices from the March on Washington 

Ending British Rule in Africa: Writers in a Common Cause

Manchester University Press, US Distribution by Palgrave  2009

On the eve of World War II, a small, impoverished group of Africans and West Indians in London dared to imagine the unimaginable: the end of British rule in Africa. In books, pamphlets, and periodicals, they launched an anti-colonial campaign that used publishing as a pathway to liberation. West Indians George Padmore, C. L. R. James, and Ras Makonnen; Kenya’s Jomo Kenyatta and Sierra Leone’s I. T. A. Wallace Johnson made their point: that colonial rule was oppressive and inconsistent with the democratic ideals Britain claimed at home.

History Workshop Journal: “Ending British Rule in Africa is a path-breaking book. Polsgrove’s excavation of one rich seam of the black presence in British print culture, and her exploration of some of the often underground networks of ‘black internationalism’ in and around the imperial metropole, is an important advance.As an inspirational account of the achievements of the Pan-Africanists around Padmore, it serves too as a reminder of the even deeper historical excavations needed to bring to light a host of lesser-known black anti-colonial thinkers and activists, of which at present we have only tantalising glimpses.”

Reviews in History: “excellent book…invaluable.”

20th Century British History: “a novel approach to both black British histories and the histories of anti-imperialism and pan-Africanism.”

The Journal of African History: “provides valuable new information on the relationship between these writers, their diverging opinions, and the personal antagonisms that grew up between them over decades….As a journalist herself, Polsgrove pays attention to the practical details of relations between agents, publishers, and editors – an aspect of writing that she notes is too often ignored in intellectual histories.”

American Historical Review: “This is a dramatic story to tell, and Polsgrove’s steady hand does it justice….She demonstrates, as no one before her has done, the degree to which anticolonialism was a politics founded on the medium of the written word: the movement of cyclostyled sheets, on cheap paper, from dingy London workshops to distant, tropical locales offers a suitably subaltern rendering of empire, allowing us to focus on what generally remains unseen or overly abstract.”

Africa Today: “This book tirelessly traces the development of this publishing community, from its origins during the U.S. and Comintern years of Padmore up to the time of Ghana’s independence, when the name of Gold Coast was changed to Ghana, on 6 March 1957. As clearly shown, this publication goes a long way toward extending the knowledge of its readers, researchers, and classroom users, especially where social movements, history, diasporic studies, and other useful subject areas are concerned. It is highly recommended.”

English Historical Review: “Clearly narrated and based on an impressive range and volume of sources, this book contributes to the recent wave of research which is concerned with the transnational dimension of black movements.”

Excerpt: on Grace Lee Boggs

Divided Minds: Intellectuals and the Civil Rights Movement

W.W. Norton 2001

The New Yorker: “Between 1954, when the Supreme Court declared segregated schools unconstitutional, and the mid-sixties, when Congress passed civil-rights and voting-rights bills, American academics and writers were invited to opine on race relations. In this brisk and understated account, Polsgrove shows that, with a few brave exceptions, whites told blacks to be patient rather than risk white Southerners’ violence. Editors were slow to call on black thinkers, and, in the McCarthy era, racists found support for their argument that desegregation was a Communist plot. In 1960, the sit-ins staged by black students interrupted the timid debate, and, soon after, James Baldwin’s New Yorker essay ‘Letter from a Region in My Mind’ gave condescending white intellectuals a sense of black anger and suffering.” (Copyright © 2001 The New Yorker)

Excerpts:  on Howard Zinn,  Ralph Ellison, Lawrence Reddick

It Wasn’t Pretty Folks, But Didn’t We Have Fun: Esquire in the Sixties

 W.W. Norton 1995

“Indispensible” – Jack Shafer, Slate

“Captivating” – Chicago Tribune


“The most intense history of a magazine I have ever read”–Nutty, Dry, and  a Hint of Vanilla

Excerpt: on  Michael Herr, Gordon Lish