The Last Children of Mill Creek

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Pub Date Apr 20 2020 | Archive Date Jul 31 2020

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A true story of growing up in segregated St. Louis, The Last Children of Mill Creek is the debut memoir by a talented writer finding her authentic voice later in life.
Vivian Gibson is a native St. Louisian who grew up in Mill Creek Valley, a neighborhood razed in 1959 to build a highway. Her family, friends, church community, and neighbors were all displaced by this act of “urban renewal.” In this moving memoir, Gibson recreates the everyday lived experiences of her large family, including her seven siblings, her crafty college-educated mother, who moved to St. Louis as part of the Great Migration, and her at-times forbidding father, who worked two jobs to keep them all safe and fed. With an eye for telling detail, she sketches scenes populated by her friends, shop owners, teachers, and others who made Mill Creek into a warm, tight-knit, African-American community, and reflects upon what it means that Mill Creek was destroyed in the name of racism disguised as “progress.”
Now 70, Gibson started writing short stories about her childhood memories of the dying community after retiring at age 66. Her book is a personal account of family life at a time very different from the modern-day, when many working-class African-American families did not have indoor plumbing and when sundown laws were still in effect -- and a document of an era that is now often forgotten or denied. In Gibson’s words, “This memoir is about survival, as told from the viewpoint of a watchful young girl -- a collection of decidedly universal stories that chronicle the extraordinary lives of ordinary people.”

A true story of growing up in segregated St. Louis, The Last Children of Mill Creek is the debut memoir by a talented writer finding her authentic voice later in life.
Vivian Gibson is a native St...

A Note From the Publisher

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Advance Praise

"It’s a strange feeling, that old ache in the heart for a place left behind long ago, yet this is what Vivian Gibson provokes through her rich and luminous prose. Originally intended as a love letter to her mother, Frances Hamilton Ross, Gibson’s memoir offers an intimate retelling of her family’s story, but also beautifully and truthfully documents the life and death of one African-American community in mid-twentieth century St. Louis. Childhood is, for most of us, where our true home resides, and The Last Children of Mill Creek is a tribute to Gibson’s, one told with deep generosity, humor and love." -- Angela Mitchell, author of Unnatural Habitats and Other Stories

"Gibson's words on paper are somehow both overdue and perfectly timed. Her perspective and stories about Mill Creek are a gentle—but firm—reminder of what exactly is lost during the slow march towards "progress." It is Gibson's intimate recounting of her parents, brothers, grandmother, and other neighbors that bring Mill Creek not back to life, but into focus, showing us that neighborhoods might disappear, but people do not. Last Children of Mill Creek is not just a memoir, it's a window into a place, time, and community that St. Louis' establishment might otherwise have you forget—written with the familiarity, warmth, and love characteristic of an author who's only just getting started."—Ryan Schuessler, editor of The St. Louis Anthology

"It’s a strange feeling, that old ache in the heart for a place left behind long ago, yet this is what Vivian Gibson provokes through her rich and luminous prose. Originally intended as a love letter...

Marketing Plan

National and local publicity. Launch event at St. Louis’s Missouri History Museum on April 29, where an interactive exhibit on Vivian's family has been part of the Reflections Gallery collection for 18 years.

National and local publicity. Launch event at St. Louis’s Missouri History Museum on April 29, where an interactive exhibit on Vivian's family has been part of the Reflections Gallery collection for...

Available Editions

EDITION Other Format
ISBN 9781948742641
PRICE $18.95 (USD)

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Featured Reviews

"The Last Children of Milk Creek" is Vivian Gibson's debut novel and was an absolutely wonderful book. She was the 5th of eight kids raised in the 1940s in Mill Creek Valley, located in downtown St. Louis.
"I thought we had plenty of time for talking - Until we didn't."

The author recreates the everyday experiences of the family and the stores in Mill Creek. A tight-knit place where everyone knew the other. She tells of the chores they each had abd that if it wasn't done or done right when their father came in at night, he would get them all up to do it. I especially liked the story she told of being out with the neighborhood kids and their father standing on the porch whistling for them to come home. He just wanted them all in the yard . He worked two jobs and sometimes didn't see them until the end of the week.
Her mother raised the kids at home while she created handmade crafts to sell. Their father's mother lived with them as well.
I really enjoyed this memoir and the stories told.

Thank you to Publisher and NetGalley for the eARC

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The Last Children of Mill Creek is Vivian Gibson's debut novel. It is beautifully written. Raised in a large family in a tight knit neighborhood (where everyone knew everyone), the author is able to recreate her childhood and family in a way that makes one feel as though they are sitting at the table. I especially loved the stories of her hardworking father (who worked two jobs, and didn't see the children until the weekend), the daily chore each child had and playing outside with the kids in the neighborhood.
I grew up listening to similar stories my mother told me (even though they grew up in Mississippi) and my aunts and uncles who grew up in segregated neighborhoods in Chicago and St. Louis.
A beautifully written memoir that at times brought tears, and head nods and most definitely smiles. I loved this book.

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Gibson proffers a beautiful story of her neighbors in St. Louis that was razed in 1959 for a highway. She shares vignettes of her childhood, the youngest daughter of a family of 10. She brings the neighborhood to life with her observations of its inhabitants, including her family. It's a loving testimony to a time and place that will never be again. I wish she would have shared more of her own personal story after she moved to NYC, as well as her siblings' stories. Perhaps there will be a follow up memoir.

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In this memoir, Gibson shares stories about growing up in Mill Creek Valley—a segregated neighborhood in St. Louis, Missouri—before a massive urban-renewal project emptied the once thriving community of its 20,000 residents and 800 businesses.

The book begins with an introduction giving an overview of Mill Creek's origins interspersed with anecdotes focusing mostly on the author's mother, and discusses what the book is about and how it came to be. It felt casual and conversational, and immediately made me want to get cozy and settle in for a lengthy reading session. (Which is exactly what I did.) That conversational tone carried on throughout the book. It reminded of how, when I was a little girl, I used to go over to the houses of a few elderly ladies who lived in the neighborhood. I loved listening to them talk about their families, because it felt like storytime to me. That same pleasant feeling was evoked as I read this book, and it made for a wonderful reading experience.

The Last Children of Mill Creek describes the final years of a community marked for destruction. The focus of the book is not on that impending doom, however. Stories about her large family (which included her parents, paternal grandmother, and seven siblings) are shared alongside vibrant details of everyday life in the close-knit community. Mill Creek and its former inhabitants sprang back to life through Gibson's words, taking the reader back to a time where sundown laws and segregation domineered the lives of African-Americans.

I couldn't help but be struck with a sense of loss, so to speak, when the author shared that she knew little about her parent's early lives. It made me reflect on how important those unknown details become after the loss of a loved one... and how easily the opportunities for those stories to be told slip away, often without notice. There have been so many times I regretted not knowing what shaped the early lives of people I loved. There were so many little things I wish I knew, unknown things that only became important to me after my chance to hear those stories was forever lost. If anything, it serves as a reminder to request those stories, and not to fall into the trap of thinking you have plenty of time and can do it later—because time always run out when you least expect it.

I realize the above may seem off-topic for a review, but it's actually highly relevant in illustrating the thoughts I had while reading this book. A single sentence informed the reader that there was much she didn't know about her parents... and yet, that sentence lingered in my thoughts throughout the entirety of the book, and was something I connected with on a deeply personal level.

One of the reasons I read books like this is to try to understand, as best I can, how racism impacts the lives of people who experience it. It's important to me to try to see the world through their eyes, so that I'm able to consider things not only from my own perspective, but that of others whose experiences are vastly different from my own.

I also look for the things I can easily connect with and understand, because I feel that is equally important. As people become increasingly divided over political and social issues in the U.S. and other countries across the world, the need for empathy and understanding are more crucial than ever—and I believe that begins with a willingness to discover the ways in which we are alike, as opposed to focusing solely on our differences.

I loved this book. In addition to be a great read, it sparked a several lines of thought (as shown above) that I expect to reflect upon for some time. The family stories are every bit as enthralling as the details surrounding the demise of the Mill Creek community, both of which I found fascinating to read.

Highly recommended for readers of memoirs/personal narratives dealing with segregation and racism with a strong focus on family life.

I received an advance reading copy of this book courtesy of Belt Publishing via Netgalley.

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Thank you to Belt Publishing and Net Galley for the Advanced Reader's Copy!

In her deft and nuanced autobiography, "The Last Children of Mill Creek," author, entrepreneur and fashion designer Vivian Gibson reflects on her childhood in the primarily black neighborhood of Mill Creek, which was later destroyed by gentrification. With simple yet meaningful examples, Gibson illustrates the Great Migration, her parent's shrewdness to provide for all her siblings and the mischief her siblings engaged in. By turns thoughtful and engaging, Gibson's down to earth language and frank storytelling will be sure to win you over!

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A fascinating tale of the impact urban regeneration has on a community that is forced to relocate. Neither indulgent nor self-pitying I found this book to be an excellent piece of social history.

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I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. I was raised in white poverty of the rural south and found it interesting to compare and contrast the culture and climate of this family to my own. This family's history is a successful story of what hard work, creativity and the support of a loving family and friends can do to uplift the human spirit. Instead of complaints about the restrictions of poverty, racism, and the many hardships faced this author relishes what was undoubtedly the nexus of her successful and creative adult life. It is a refreshing story that should serve as in inspiration to all races and cultures of what is out there if you are willing to work hard to overcome … the American dream.
Ms. Gibson richly describes the characters is this book and the writing flows beautifully. I would encourage the reading of this book especially to those who are interested in the culture and history of the 20th century of the south.

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The "The Last Children of Mill Creek" by Vivian Gibson is a memoir of the author's life growing up in an area of St. Louis that was destroyed in the late 1950s to build a highway. Gibson recounts the ups and downs of growing up in a large family in a poor, segregated neighborhood in the Mill Creek neighborhood of St. Louis. While there were many forces acting against the family from the outside and some challenging family dynamics, Gibson's mother and community members provided a lot of strength and support. I really enjoyed the book, but I was definitely hoping for a greater intertwining of and a more in-depth discussion of the historical details relating to the destruction of the neighborhood. Sadly, the depiction of overcrowded, segregated, underfunded schools is not a scenario that stayed in the past. Overall, this was a good and interesting read.

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