Scaling the inimitable Debbie Plummer
I had the distinct honor of introducing my dear friend Debbie Plummer at the Harvard Book Store last week as she launched her new book, Some of My Best Friends Are... The Daunting Challenges and Untapped Potential of Cross-Racial Friendships. Below is a truncated version of my remarks.
I first met Debbie back in 2013. She was new to the Boston area and reached out to talk to me about an event she was interested in creating called “Authors in the House.” Her laughter was infectious as she joyfully laid out her vision for me. She wanted to create a first-of-its-kind, high energy showcase and national competition for self-published authors. Debbie, I learned had self-published two novels featuring a nun skilled at cracking psycho-social mysteries. As she published her books, she recognized that there was a real need for curated platforms to highlight worthy self-published titles and she wanted to roll up her sleeves to build one.
This ability of Debbie’s to see what’s missing or in need of change in the world and to work toward that change with ambition and positivity is central to her brilliance and on full display in Some of My Best Friends Are.
Over our first lunch, I learned that Debbie had come to Boston to become the Chief Diversity Officer at UMass Medical School. She was also a professor researching diversity metrics and cross-racial friendships with a long list of professional accomplishments and academic publications under her belt.
As I got to know Debbie, I started to talk to her about joining GrubStreet’s board. At the time, with few exceptions, GrubStreet was an almost exclusively white organization from head to toe. We’d been working on changing that for years, but we hadn’t succeeded in making much progress. Once Debbie joined our board, the conversations we’d been having for years began to change. And then the goal setting, the planning, and the tactics began to change as well. Today, we’re a radically different and profoundly more diverse and inclusive organization. Debbie’s generosity in sharing her hard-earned wisdom, her research and thinking, and her loving approach were essential to our transformation.
Having watched Debbie in action and knowing what she’s been able to help make happen at GrubStreet, I couldn’t be more thrilled that there’s finally a way to scale and unleash her to a wider audience with her new book.
Some of My Best Friends Are... The Daunting Challenges and Untapped Potential of Cross-Racial is about how friendship patterns, yours and mine, reflect America’s racial divide, the tension created by the divide, and the hope – through friendship -- for future racial harmony. You’re in for a treat in reading this book which examines how factors such as leisure, politics, humor, faith, and education influence the nature and intensity of cross-racial friendships. The stories are engaging, and it’s full of inspiring anecdotes and interviews.
To my mind, this book is coming at just the right moment with just the right approach. The stakes couldn’t be higher. Trust in our institutions has plummeted in recent decades and levels of partisan distrust and animosity are profound. According to Pew, a full 27% of Democrats and 36% of Republicans view the opposing party as “a threat to the nation’s well-being.” And according to research by the marketing firm Edelman, trust is down in America across the board—from government institutions to businesses to media and non-governmental organizations—reaching historic lows in the eighteen years the firm has been tracking it. There’s a total assault on facts. Hate speech and white nationalism are on the rise.
Given the loss of trust so many of us are feeling in our institutions, and the real and perceived divides found in our rapidly evolving culture, we can’t afford to give up on each other. We are powerfully in need of human-to-human connection and conversation—even when it’s hard.
With this book, Debbie is making the powerful argument that cross-racial friendships widen our lens and are foundational for building trust and closing our racial divide. She challenges each of us to think about our own friendships and how they foster racial equity. If we don’t have interracial friendships, she reminds us that it’s not too late to make them and that it’s well worth the work.
In promoting her vision, Debbie will be hosting and visiting interracial salons to discuss friendships and race. If you’re interested in either joining or hosting such an event, please contact Perpetual Charles at Beacon Press: [email protected]con.org.
Debbie’s dream is that a grassroots movement emerges from the pages of her book. Knowing what Debbie’s friendship has meant to me and all it’s led to at GrubStreet, I’m a big believer in what we can accomplish one friendship at a time. I couldn’t be prouder of my friend nor more excited to see this book launched.
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Under Eve’s (she/her/hers) leadership, GrubStreet has grown into a national literary powerhouse known for artistic excellence, working to democratize the publishing pipeline and program innovation. An active partner to the Mayor’s Office of Arts and Culture, Eve was the driving force behind establishing the country’s first Literary Cultural District in downtown Boston and securing chapter 91 space in the Seaport to build a creative writing center. The Barr Foundation recently named her a 2019 Barr Fellow in recognition of her leadership. Having graduated from its inaugural class, Eve remains active with the National Arts Strategies Chief Executive Program, a consortium of 200 of the world’s top cultural leaders, which addresses the critical issues that face the arts and cultural sector worldwide. Eve has presented on the future of publishing, what it takes to build a literary arts center, and the intersection of arts and civics at numerous local and national conferences. Her essays and op-eds on publishing, the role of creative writing centers and the importance of the narrative arts have appeared in The Boston Globe, Huffington Post, Cognoscenti, Writer's Digest and TinHouse. Eve serves on the Advisory Board of The Loop Lab, a new Cambridge-based nonprofit dedicated to increasing representation in the Media Arts. Eve worked as a literary agent at The Zachary Shuster Harmsworth Literary Agency for five happy years where she developed, edited, and sold a wide variety of books to major publishers. Before starting GrubStreet, she attended Boston University’s Writing program on a teaching fellowship, farmed in Oregon, and ran an international bookstore in Prague.See other articles by Eve Bridburg