Sunday, May 24, 2020

Officer Clemmons

Officer Clemmons is a memoir by Francois Clemmons detailing his early life, education, and time as Officer Clemmons, the character he played on Mr. Rogers' Neigborhood on PBS. Released 5th May 2020 by Catapult Books, it's 288 pages and available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats.

I grew up near Pittsburgh, PA and though I was slightly too old to really be a part of Mr. Rogers' target audience (I was more a Sesame St. and Electric Co. kid), I always loved watching Mr. Rogers (since it was aired on our PBS station just before my shows). The genuine warmth and respect he showed to everyone made a deep impression on me, and he has been a role model to several generations of kids.

I always enjoyed the different characters who appeared on his show and liked that there was a continuity and dependability to the show's format and actors. It's incredible to think about how long lived the characters and the actors who brought them to life were associated with the show and I've often thought about how the show and the people associated with it provided some much needed stability and positive reinforcement to a lot of vulnerable kids.

Anyhow, this is a respectful, well written memoir mostly about Francois Clemmons' early life and upbringing, his education, and his years working with Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. There's a directness and honesty to his writing that is effective and moving. I found myself so touched and sad and angry at the casual violence and racism that were a part of his early life. He talks openly about his family history, the loss of family members to violence/murder, the casual systemic racism of the southern USA in the 1950s, and on top of all of that, his growing awareness of his sexual orientation in a society which was openly hostile to non-binary people. He made a lot of difficult decisions to sacrifice emotional parts of his life in order to work in children's programming and specifically with Fred Rogers.

I did enjoy the book, and the behind-the-scenes reminiscences, despite much of it being sad and poignant. Four stars.

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.

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