Bruce D. Haynes and Syma Solovitch

Down the Up Staircase

Three Generations of a Harlem Family

Columbia University Press 2017

New Books in African American StudiesNew Books in American StudiesNew Books in BiographyNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in SociologyNew Books Network June 2, 2017 Richard E. Ocejo

Public scholarship takes many forms, from op-eds to activism to blog posts. In their new book, Down the Up Staircase: Three Generations of a...

Public scholarship takes many forms, from op-eds to activism to blog posts. In their new book, Down the Up Staircase: Three Generations of a Harlem Family (Columbia University Press, 2017), Associate Professor Bruce Haynes and freelance writer, developmental editor, and educator Syma Solovitch (both co-authors and a married couple) use a “sociological memoir” to show a variety of social science concepts in the fields of urban studies, social class, and race.

The subject is Haynes’s family, whose members were at the heart of several key events, periods, and organizations in African American life in the twentieth century. His grandfather was a leading scholar of the Great Migration and founded the National Urban League, while his grandmother was a noted children’s book author of the Harlem Renaissance. The couple became members of the new black Harlem. His parents, who made great sacrifices, such as the gradual deterioration of their house, to send their three sons to private school, resembled the tenuous position African Americans held in the middle class. And Haynes and his brothers came of age in an equally exciting and dangerous period in New York City’s history: the turbulence of the 60s, decline of the 70s, and devastation of the 80s. Interweaving a variety of sociological concepts and historical examinations with intimate portraits of this singular family, Down the Up Staircase takes readers on an entertaining and provocative tour of twentieth-century urban America.


Richard E. Ocejo is associate professor of sociology at John Jay College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY). He is the author of Masters of Craft: Old Jobs in the New Urban Economy (Princeton University Press, 2017), about the transformation of low-status occupations into cool, cultural taste-making jobs (cocktail bartenders, craft distillers, upscale mens barbers, and whole animal butchers), and of Upscaling Downtown: From Bowery Saloons to Cocktail Bars in New York City (Princeton University Press, 2014), about growth policies, nightlife, and conflict in gentrified neighborhoods. His work has appeared in such journals as City & Community, Poetics, Ethnography, and the European Journal of Cultural Studies. He is also the editor of Ethnography and the City: Readings on Doing Urban Fieldwork (Routledge; 2012) and serves on the editorial boards of the journals Metropolitics, Work and Occupations, and the Journal for Undergraduate Ethnography.

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