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Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of Texas Tribune Events conversations with Texas-based authors and authors of works focused on issues that matter to Texans.
Ruth Simmons had a distinct audience in mind as she wrote her memoir: her students.
“I wanted to write this for my students so they would understand the ways in which societies evolve, even beyond the most unimaginable strictures,” Simmons, the president’s distinguished fellow at Rice University and former Prairie View A&M president, said in an interview recorded Thursday with Texas Tribune Editor-in-Chief Sewell Chan. “I wanted to make sure that they had at least the means to understand the way in which living out of a life goes through many different stages and many different opportunities to grow.”
Simmons’ book, “Up Home: One Girl’s Journey,” chronicles her life growing up in East Texas and Houston in the ‘40s and ‘50s, setting the stage for her distinguished career in academia. The youngest of 12 children of two sharecroppers, Simmons served as president of Prairie View from 2017-23. She previously served as president of Smith College in Massachusetts and president at Brown University, where she was the first Black woman to lead an Ivy League school.
In her conversation with Chan, Simmons discussed the struggles her parents went through to support their family, the research she did to look deeper into her family roots and how her family’s move to Houston helped change her educational trajectory.
Simmons said her students ask her why she isn’t angry about the discrimination she and her family experienced.
“I’m not angry about my past because it’s given me a very rich life, and as I say, I have learned so much as a consequence of the fact that I was denied so much at the beginning.”
You can watch the full video of the conversation above.
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