Officer Clemmons: A Memoir

François S. Clemmons. Catapult, $26 (288p) ISBN 978-1-948226-70-7
Clemmons, who played Officer Clemmons on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, tells of his life as a gay African-American in the postwar era, in this uplifting memoir. The Mississippi-born Clemmons grew up in 1950s Youngstown, Ohio, the son of a disapproving mother and abusive stepfather. He sang, studied the Bible, and was intrigued by James Baldwin, among other authors. Clemmons wondered “how he could be such a great writer and be gay” and “Was he still a Christian?” In 1963, Clemmons enrolled at Oberlin College, where he explored his homosexuality and began a long-term clandestine relationship. While in graduate school at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie-Mellon University, Clemmons met Fred Rogers. Their quick affinity resulted in his role on the show and a lifelong friendship. However, in 1968, when Rogers learned that Clemmons was gay, he told Clemmons to keep it to himself or leave the cast, and Clemmons complied. “I returned to my place of secrets,” he writes; years later, however, Clemmons quietly came out. Clemmons left Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood in 1993, and he humbly tells of his later career with grace: he founded the Harlem Spiritual Ensemble in 1980 and later became artist-in-residence at Middlebury College, where he remained until retiring in 2013. Clemmons’s thoroughly delightful, inspiring story will speak particularly to artists in marginalized communities. (May)
Reviewed on : 12/17/2019
Release date: 05/05/2020
Genre: Nonfiction
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