In Place Series
An innovative, hybrid work of literary nonfiction, Lowest White Boy takes its title from Lyndon Johnson’s observation during the civil rights era: “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket.”
Greg Bottoms writes about growing up white and working class in Tidewater, Virginia, during school desegregation in the 1970s. He offers brief stories that accumulate to reveal the everyday experience of living inside complex, systematic racism that is often invisible to economically and politically disenfranchised white southerners—people who have benefitted from racism in material ways while being damaged by it, he suggests, psychologically and spiritually. Placing personal memories against a backdrop of documentary photography, social history, and cultural critique, Lowest White Boy explores normalized racial animus and reactionary white identity politics, particularly as these are collected and processed in the mind of a child.
Greg Bottoms is a professor of English at the University of Vermont. He is the author of many books, including Angelhead: My Brother’s Descent into Madness, The Colorful Apocalypse: Journeys in Outsider Art, and Spiritual American Trash: Portraits from the Margins of Art and Faith.
"Greg Bottoms is one of the most innovative and intriguing nonfiction writers at work, and this is his most powerful book to date, a crucial interrogation of whiteness, white supremacy, and the formation of one American lowest white boy."
Jeff Sharlet, author of The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power
“Greg Bottoms takes readers on a journey through ignorance and enlightenment in this dazzling memoir about growing up white and working class in the slowly desegregating South. He treats his subjects with compassion as he explores the tangle of race relations in his childhood. Lowest White Boy should be read alongside Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine, in that everyday experiences of racism are illuminated with rich and powerful meaning. A consummate storyteller, Bottoms brings to life a world that is rarely explored in contemporary conversations about racial strife. The result is a narrative that is as beautiful as it is instructive.”
Emily Bernard, author of Black Is the Body: Stories from My Grandmother’s Time, My Mother’s Time, and Mine
“I read Lowest White Boy with serious admiration. It's difficult to think of a timelier, nervier, more discomfiting, more pulse-quickening book than Greg Bottoms’s impressive exploration of an extremely difficult subject. There is candor and then there is candor. This is candor.”
David Shields, author of Black Planet: Facing Race during an NBA Season
“From the first page on, I was totally absorbed in this ‘memoir as vehicle for interpretation,’ as Greg Bottoms describes Lowest White Boy. It’s a passionate hybrid text that moves seamlessly between the personal and the public, the timely and the timeless. Raised in Tidewater, Virginia, ‘at ground zero of American slavery,’ Bottoms imagined as a young boy feeling the ‘layers of time beneath [his] feet.’ A gifted storyteller, he evokes this feeling in each of the poignant, troubling vignettes he offers his lucky readers.”
Rebecca McClanahan, author of The Tribal Knot: A Memoir of Family, Community, and a Century of Change
"A valuable complement to (though not substitute for) the narratives of African Americans, Lowest White Boyshould make readers recall the times when they let the 'stories of their community' override their sense of truth and justice."