Coming of Age in Utopia

The Odyssey of an Idea

Title Details

Pages: 360

Trim size: 6.000in x 9.000in



Pub Date: 08/01/2009

ISBN: 9-781-5883-8225-2

List Price: $27.95


Pub Date: 08/01/2009

ISBN: 9-781-6030-6157-5

List Price: $27.95


NewSouth Books

Coming of Age in Utopia

The Odyssey of an Idea

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  • Description
  • Reviews
In this exquisitely wrought memoir of a committed life, historian and civil rights activist Paul M. Gaston reveals his deep roots in the unique utopian community founded in 1894 by his grandfather on the shores of Mobile Bay, Alabama. Fairhope grew into a unique political, economic, and educational experiment and a center of radical economic and educational ideals. As time passed, however, Fairhope’s radical nature went into decline. By the early 1950s, the author began to look outward for ways to take part in the coming struggle—the civil rights movement. Gaston’s career at the University of Virginia, where he taught from 1957–97, forms the core of Coming of Age in Utopia.
The arc of his personal story moves from an unlikely experiment in utopian living, to an enduring marriage, through a distinguished career in the academic world—one that energized his engagement with the civil rights movement. Author and professor Paul Gaston is one of those most fortunate among us who has lived a wonderfully fulfilling life of quality and purpose. These pages inspire service, loyalty, education, dissent, and, most of all, the justice that inevitably follows.

—Suzanne Hudson, author, In a Temple of Trees and In the Dark of the Moon

'Thomas Wolfe was correct,' Gaston muses. 'You can’t go home again. I couldn’t. My home no longer existed. It had vanished. But there had once been a home. A home with a spirit, a mission, and a fair hope for a better world.' His revelation of that earlier place is poetic and a fine addition to the long and distinguished tradition of Southern memoirs.

—John Sledge, Mobile Press-Register

Gaston has written a pleasing, highly readable, and informative memoir, but it is also a history of Fairhope, a chronicle of progress at UVa, and, seen from his Gaston’s special point of view, a history of U.S. race relations from about 1940 to the present. A happy childhood does not preclude writing a successful memoir if one’s adult life is well-spent.

—Don Noble, First Draft

What a fascinating life journey it’s been for Paul Gaston—and how lucky we are that he has shared it with us in his new book. This distinguished University of Virginia professor was a lion of the civil rights movement, and his contributions remind everyone that a single person’s deep commitment can make a giant difference.

—Dr. Larry Sabato, director of University of Virginia Center for Politics

Paul Gaston has given us two great gifts: a life well lived and a story powerfully told. Gaston has been a witness to, and a maker of, profound and humane Southern change. An enduring love of the South shines through in every act and in every sentence.

—Edward Ayers, president, University of Richmond

Contrasting places—populist Fairhope, Alabama, the utopian community turned reactionary resort, and the segregated University of Virginia become multiracial—ground Paul Gaston’s beautifully told life as an agent of change. This Southern story needed to be told and now needs to be read, to remind us that positive change does not come easy. It only happens when courageous people like Paul Gaston take action, and in this case, action grew out of an inspiring community.

—Nell Painter, Edwards Professor of American History, Emerita, Princeton University

With characteristic candor and wit, Mr. Gaston tells the story of growing up in an idealistic community in Alabama and later confronting tough challenges and harsh realities on the front lines of the desegregation battle. For nearly a half-century, Mr. Gaston has written wisely and convincingly about the American South and the civil rights struggle that transpired there. This new book will be worthwhile reading for anyone who cares about our shared past and future prospects as American citizens.

—John T. Casteen, president, University of Virginia

Paul Gaston’s wry and riveting book will take its place among the very best of these invaluable memoirs. Among its many gifts is an inside look at the impact of the movement on higher learning in the South, one of the great and relatively untold stories of the 1960s and 1970s. Most of all, Coming of Age in Utopia captures the intimate human drama of how the generation of black and white Southerners that came of age after World War II put their ideals into practice, mobilizing their gifts and transcending their own frailties to transform the South and the nation.

—Julia Cherry Spruill, professor of history and director of the Southern Oral History Program, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

This deeply moving memoir and absorbing social history takes Paul Gaston from an upbringing in a model utopian community in Alabama to a forty-year career as a model scholar-activist for several generations of students at the University of Virginia, marked throughout by his radical commitment to racial and economic equality and his lifelong hope in the possibility of a more humane South.

—Matthew Lassiter, professor of history, University of Michigan

From a utopia to a university, from growing up to growing wise, for an idea to an ideal—Paul Gaston's compelling memoir of promoting racial justice in the South.

—Julian Bond, board chairman, NAACP

About the Author/Editor

PAUL M. GASTON (1928-2019) was born and reared in Fairhope, Alabama, about which he has written two books. He is also the author of The New South Creed, winner of the Lillian Smith Award for distinguished writing about the South. He is a past president of the Southern Regional Council and has been a frequent visitor in South Africa, both before and after the fall of apartheid. He has received numerous honors for both his professional work and civil rights leadership, including the outstanding professor award from the Commonwealth of Virginia; bridge builder recognition from the city of Charlottesville; legendary civil rights activist from the NAACP; and community leader, from his alma mater, Swarthmore College.