The Grace of Silence Discussion Questions

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

''The Grace of Silence'' is a memoir about race and family legacies in the United States. Students are likely to have a lot of thoughts about these topics after reading the book, and these questions can help guide that discussion.

The Grace of Silence

The Grace of Silence is a 2010 memoir by author and NPR host Michele Norris about her family history and the pervading role of race and racism that has spanned generations. The book arose out of conversations that Norris observed and experienced in the immediate wake of Barack Obama's presidential election, so it is full of timely topics about race in 21st-century America. This book is an excellent primer to discussions about race, identity, and history in the United States, and these questions can help your high schoolers begin to unpack their thoughts about Norris' memoir.

Questions About Content

  • In your own words, how would you describe The Grace of Silence? What is this book about? Give your best one-sentence elevator pitch for this book.
  • How does Michele Norris introduce the book? What do we learn from this introduction? What prompted this project? What did Norris experience and observe following Barack Obama's election as the US president? Do you remember this election? Have you heard people talk about it? Is Norris' account of how Americans both acknowledged and dodged conversations about racism consistent with your memories or the stories you've heard?
  • How did the election of Obama lead Norris into a project on her own family history? What were some of the first things she learned about her family history? As she dug further, what else did she learn?
  • How had Norris' family been impacted by racial identities and racism in the United States? What experiences does she focus on? How does she present these moments? What were your reactions to these stories? How does Norris tie all of these events and experiences into a single narrative?
  • How does Norris balance her role as both narrator and subject in this memoir? Does she attempt to retain a degree of journalistic objectivity in exploring her own family history? Do you think she succeeds? Does she acknowledge the difficulties of this? Does Norris mean to elevate her family's experiences as entirely unique, or as emblematic of wider issues that impacted millions of people? How does she demonstrate or communicate this?
  • How does the process of uncovering family secrets go for Norris? What struggles does she face in the process? Why do you think these struggles arose? What issues and questions are left unresolved? Why doesn't Norris get to the bottom of every story and secret? How does she explain this? Was it necessary for her to uncover every detail of every secret?

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