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Up Home

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"Up Home" by Ruth J. Simmons is a deeply resonant memoir that traces Simmons' extraordinary journey from humble beginnings in Jim Crow Texas to becoming the first Black president of an Ivy League institution. Despite facing immense challenges, Simmons' ascent to academic prominence is a testament to the power of resilience, determination, and the invaluable support of allies and mentors.

One of the most compelling aspects of Simmons' narrative is her emphasis on the pivotal role played by educators in her life. In a time when Black schoolteachers were highly respected members of their communities, Simmons recalls with gratitude the unwavering support and guidance she received from her teachers in segregated grade schools and Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Their belief in her potential and their willingness to go above and beyond expectations laid the foundation for her success, even in the face of daunting obstacles.

Simmons' love for her family and roots shines through in every page of the memoir. Despite achieving remarkable success, she remains grounded in her upbringing as the granddaughter of slaves and the daughter of sharecroppers. Her affectionate portrayal of her siblings, parents, and community members underscores the importance of familial bonds and cultural heritage in shaping one's identity and aspirations.

Simmons' writing style, characterized by its clarity, simplicity, and dry wit, captivates readers from start to finish. Her ability to evoke the landscapes and dynamics of her childhood in vivid detail makes "Up Home" a compelling and immersive reading experience. Whether recounting the challenges of her upbringing or the triumphs of her academic career, Simmons' narrative is infused with authenticity and candor.

Overall, "Up Home" is a powerful testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the transformative power of education. Through Simmons' inspiring story, readers are reminded of the enduring legacy of those who uplift and empower others, regardless of their background or circumstances. This memoir is not only a celebration of Simmons' remarkable achievements but also a timeless reflection on the enduring pursuit of knowledge and self-discovery.

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I would like to thank Publisher and Netgalley for ARC copy.


What a beautiful read about Ruth J. Simmons living in poverty and Jim Crowd in Texas. With a large Family my heart goes out to her Mother she was the glue that held the Family together. I felt that Ruth Farther had no care in world for them. This book was so encouraging and inspiriting please read this book you want be disappointed trust. Up Home will be on my best reads 2024 love it.

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It is truly wild to me how, the older I get, the more I learn how close we really are to major aspects of U.S. history. Ruth Simmons is less than 80 years old, yet her whole family had to make a living as sharecroppers in the 1940's and 50's. She talks about how stark the contrast was between her childhood on her family's small farm and the life they lived when they eventually moved to Dallas, including the chance for her to finish public school. Falling in love with learning truly changed Ruth's life, as it led her to study abroad in France and continue her post-secondary education, eventually going on to be the President of Brown University. I especially loved Ruth's honesty about her family relationships, which were fraught and complex when it came to her parents. Even in the 1960's, the generational divide between parents who grew up before technological and social advances and the children who took them for granted was a source of tension for families like Ruth's. I really appreciated hearing her story.

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Up Home is Ruth J. Simmons story of growing up and overcoming her circumstances. Growing up as one of twelve children, the daughter of sharecroppers, Ruth went through many hardships to get where she is today. She lived outside Houston for most of her life on the farm her family worked. She lived in less than ideal houses, most without basic necessities like running water or heat. As the baby, Ruth was shielded from a lot as her older brothers and sisters took care of her and her mom protected her from the wrath of her dad. When her family moved to Houston’s Fifth Ward, Ruth began to see beyond her circumstances and was given many chances to see the world outside of her limited view. Ruth grew to be very successful despite and because of the things she had to overcome growing up. This is a great story that really shows how as one’s view of the world is opened up, many of our opinions and thoughts can be changed.

Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for the advance copy in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

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I have incredibly vivid memories of chanting "Ruth! Ruth!" with thousands of other Smithies at Convocation in the late 90s. Ruth was an incredible college president and I was so excited to have the opportunity to read Up Home and get to know her a little better. I knew she was the daughter of a sharecropper, but I didn't know much about her adolescence. Her journey is inspirational, and learning about all those who helped her along the way was fantastic.

Many thanks to NetGalley for this ARC.

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Up Home feels like a classic of the memoir genre, in the best sense. Ruth J. Simmons narrates her journey to achieving academic success in a familiar voices that wraps the reader up in the richness of her story, making the reader feel as though Simmons is a wise mentor who is recalling her journey to the reader in a series of sit-down conversations. From East Texas to the Ivy League commencement stage, readers will surely cheer for Simmons.

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Thank you, to the publisher, for this eARC via Netgalley in exchange for my honest opinion! Ruth Simmons grew up in and around Houston in the forties, fifties and sixties. Born into poverty and segregation she went on to achieve great things with the support of family and mentors. This novel was so well written and a very interesting read. I would definitely recommend it to those who enjoy reading biographies or who enjoy historical novels.

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Such a fascinating memoir. I loved that she came out of retirement to be president of PVAMU. Learning more about her was really great.

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I admittedly did not know much about Ruth Simmons prior to reading this book but had heard her name in passing. You may recognize her name as she made history as the first black president of an Ivy League university. This book shows her journey through academia and the pivotal moments which defined her career trajectory. I typically do not read memoirs but found Up Home to be really well written and interesting to read, especially after finishing The Love Songs of W.E.B. DuBois (Honorée Fanonne Jeffers).

I really enjoyed the picture she painted of her family. Although there were quite a few names to keep track of (as Ruth is the youngest of 12!), I enjoyed learning about her upbringing and family; the passage on all their nicknames brought a level of familiarity to her family. Her first memory of a classroom was beautifully written. I truly understood how she felt in this moment to finally have something of her own. I also was intrigued by the difference in her writing style when discussing memories of her mother vs her father. I found it best explained by this quote, “Racism had reduced my father to a shadow of the man he could have been, and he turned the demeaning arrogance that had victimized him on my mother, making her subservient to him in every way.”

Overall, I would recommend this memoir, especially if you are feeling “stuck” in life. It brings great perspective to the opportunities women (particularly black women) have today. 4 stars!

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This is a wonderful memoir. It is probably the best that I have read in recent years. Ruth Jean Simmons grew up in and around Houston in the forties, fifties and sixties. She was born into poverty, segregation and racism but with the support of a large family and public school mentors went on to achieve great things academically and professionally, including serving as president of several universities. This is so well written and my hope is that it gets the attention and wide readership that it deserves. I received a digital arc from the publisher through NetGalley.

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Up Home by Ruth J Simmons

I was really interested to find out how a young girl from a sharecropper family in Texas made it all the way to be president of two Ivy League colleges. What a great story that must be, but this autobiography barely covers the how of this great accomplishment. My thanks to Random House and Net Galley for this title.

Most of the book, however, does cover details about the sad childhood homes she lived in, as she admits they were all the same, but just in a different place. Why so much time on this? A story covering her later years would have been more interesting to me.

There are names after names of teachers who influenced her, and then they are mostly overshadowed by the love for her subservient mother, who was not not a great role model for women’s progress. Ruth had many breaks and scholarships others didn’t get, and deservedly so. She was smart and worked hard. She comes to realize that being the only Black person in a discussion could be an asset to the group.

Hooray for Ruth Simmons and her career successes. Just please tell me more about this.

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Texas native’s memoir charts journey from poor childhood to the heights of academia

Ruth J. Simmons grew up without running water or electricity. She became the president of Smith College, Brown University and Prairie View A&M.

By Joyce Sáenz Harris
The Dallas Morning News
6:00 AM on Aug 24, 2023

Many up-by-the-bootstraps memoirists reminisce about their hardscrabble childhoods and conclude by saying: “We were poor, but we didn’t know we were poor.”

Not so for Ruth J. Simmons, who as president emeritus of Smith College, Brown University and Prairie View A&M has left an indelible imprint on American higher education. She grew up as the 12th child of a Black sharecropper in rural Texas. “When you’re hungry,” Simmons says, “you know you’re poor. It was a valiant struggle, and a successful one.”

In her new memoir, Up Home: One Girl’s Journey, Simmons tells her story as only she can: simply but eloquently, directly, with a devastating honesty. Her narrative gathers strength and power as the young Ruth Jean grows from innocent child to awkward adolescent and then aspiring young woman, gaining both academic knowledge and hard-won life experience along the way.

She was the family’s last baby, born in East Texas in 1945. But for decades, the Stubblefields lived a meager, 19th-century existence. Ruth Jean’s younger years were lived in a drafty, leaky shack with no electricity, running water or indoor plumbing, and no heat aside from a wood stove in the winter. They were marginally better off after moving from Grapeland to Houston’s Fifth Ward for better work opportunities, but things never got easy for them.

Her father, Ike, was a farmer, laborer and preacher. Her mother, Fannie, worked 20 hours a day to feed and clothe her family, and not just at home: She also went out to work as a domestic to scrub and clean the homes of white people.

Yet no matter how hard the elder Stubblefields worked, no matter how much their children helped, there was never enough of anything. Not enough money, food or clothing, much less hot water, bath soap or medical care. Least of all were there the luxuries Ruth Jean most craved: attention, imagination, books and the leisure to read them.

Here was a true case of “It takes a village.” For Ruth Jean, support came not only from caring family members and dear friends, but from extraordinary teachers who saw in her the potential to become a scholar, a shining star. Those teachers convinced her “that learning was supremely important, thoroughly enjoyable, and immensely expansive.”

Her first-grade teacher in Grapeland, Ida Mae Henderson, was the first one who really “saw me,” Simmons says — saw beyond her “thick, unstraightened plaits; large, bulging eyes; a homemade, ill-fitting dress; and the odor of the bacon fat my mother had smeared on my legs to treat my ashy skin.” Ruth Jean “could not understand how such a magnificent person could heap praise on me, an ugly country girl!”

But praise her, she did. As Simmons wrote: “Miss Ida Mae made me think that I was the princess of W.R. Banks [School] — equal to or better than any other child in her class. … I found it remarkable that this woman greeted me with ‘Hello, precious!’ or ‘Good morning, baby!’ By telling me I was valued … she invited me into a world of mystery and magic. What would I discover in such a place? Perhaps the key to the realm that I had long imagined, one varied and interesting, where I would be equal to others.”

After an academic career that carried her from vice provost at Princeton to president of Smith and then president of Brown, “I had no intention of taking on another job,” Simmons says. But five years later, when Prairie View A&M came calling, she felt called to use her talents on behalf of HBCU students “who deserve an education, just like my students at Brown.” Her family already had a connection to Prairie View, for her older brother Clarence had played basketball there and later became a coach.

As the university’s eighth president, Ruth Simmons brought her own game to recruit more funding and scholarships before stepping down earlier this year. She now lives in Houston, where she is a President’s Distinguished Fellow at Rice University. For, despite all her years away, “Texas is home for me,” Simmons says. “And I’m beginning to learn that I’ll never be done. I’ll always be involved in a positive way.”

Up Home: One Girl’s Journey

By Ruth J. Simmons

(Random House, 224 pages, $27)

Due out Sept. 5

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This was an engrossing read about a woman I've never heard of, but that didn't make this any less interesting to read. Ruth Simmons is the president of Prairie View A&M University, Texas' oldest HBCU, but she has also been the presidents of Brown University and Smith College as well as vice provost of Princeton. That the youngest of twelve children in a poor family of sharecroppers barely able to make ends meet was able to achieve all this is both a sign of her inner drive to make something of herself and escape her limitations as well as the amazing mentors she met along the way. And yet, despite achieving these lofty accomplishments, she has never forgotten her roots. While she has experienced things most of us will never understand, what got her through was her flexibility and her willingness to learn as much as possible from every experience, good and bad, and to not hold onto anger or resentment towards the bad (for example, her father).

Overall, I found this to be an inspiring and interesting read and would recommend it to those who enjoy reading biographies or who enjoy historical books.

I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

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Reading of the life of Ruth was an incredible treat. The story opened your eyes to so much we wouldn’t know. Differences in life. Please pick this up.

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I'm from Houston Texas and what originally drew me to this book was that Ms. Smith was President of Prarie View A&M, an HBCU about 75 miles from Houston. Also, I'm the 11th of 12 children and Ms. Smith is also from a family of 12 children. From growing up in a home of sharecroppers to becoming presidents of Prairie View A & M University, Smith College, and Brown University and as president of Brown University, she was the first African American president of an Ivy League institution! This is quite an inspirational story and I'm so glad that I was able to read an advanced copy. If you want to read one of the most inspirational stories, I encourage you to get this book. You won't be disappointed. #netgalley #uphome

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This is powerful, memorable, and inspirational. Simmons was the youngest of twelve children whose entire family were poor sharecroppers. Critical mentors she had along the way led her to become incredibly successful in the education space, becoming President of three different universities, including the first African American President of an Ivy League institution with her role at Brown University.

Up Home: One Girl's Journey is a great testimony to the power of teachers and key influencers as well as the grit, determination, and ambition that helps people achieve their goals. Beautiful and inspiring story.

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This was an amazing memoir. A wonderful way with words. The most profound thing for me, was how books transformed her life from small country girl to scholar. It was so wonderful to read.

This was such a beautiful and easy read! Ruth J Simmons, the youngest of twelve children born to extremely impoverished sharecroppers in Texas, writes about how despite her circumstances she became the first African American president of an Ivy League university.

This piece of work is truly inspirational. It shows how hard she worked to become educated and successful. Simmons overcame many adversities and worked tirelessly to educate herself. She did so magnificently. She is an extraordinary, passionate, & goal oriented woman.

Simmons shares how she handles failures, disappointments, and rejection. She stayed focused on her goals; remained flexible and always looked for alternative ways to achieve her goals. This book deals with some difficult issues and I wouldn’t recommend to younger audiences.

Thank you NetGalley for giving me this ARC. #NetGalley #RuthSimmons #UpHome

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Dr. Simmons brings us into her childhood and home to Texas. This book was really interesting, as I have never read a memoir about one's childhood written in this way. As an adult, I found the approach to be very interesting, but wonder if this book is better suited for young adults. I hope that Dr. Simmons writes another memoir about her career. Pairing these two books together would be perfect for a class discussion. I enjoyed this book. Once I started, it was hard for me to put it down. I highly recommend.

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This is a really inspirational read. Simmons had a tough upbringing but she didn't let that stop her from creating a good life for herself. Simmons became the first Black president of an Ivy League university.
Simmons works hard to overcome adversities. It is always inspiring to see how hard our ancestors of colour worked to become educated, especially those who pushed to have education become what it is and continue to inspire future generations.

Thank you to Netgalley and Random House for an eARC of this book!

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What a beautiful yet easy read to welcome in the last summer days! Grab a copy of Up Home: One Girl’s Journey by Ruth J. Simmons from your local bookstore and get ready for an inspiring memoir.

Simmons was the youngest of 12 children. Her parents were extremely impoverished sharecroppers in Texas. Nevertheless, Simmons became the first Black president of an Ivy League university. I don’t want to say too much, because I want you to read the dang book, but this was definitely an uplifting read.

I was inspired reading about Simmons and how she overcame adversities. I am always inspired by how hard our ancestors of colour worked to become educated, especially those who pushed to have education become what it was when I experienced academia. Truly a powerful testament to never giving up on your dreams.

Thank you to Netgalley and Random House for an eARC in exchange for my honest review!

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